The Kitchen Table #361 – Commander Shadow

If you love abusing your graveyard and Commander, this is the perfect deck for you! Abe Sargent talks EDH today with a mono-black graveyard themed deck.

The inclusion of Vengeful Pharaoh in Magic 2012 and the upcoming graveyard theme in Innistrad have inspired me to finally see one of my Commander projects come to fruition. I’ve been thinking about building this deck for a very long time. Since the release of Ice Age, I’ve always had a deck built around the interaction between the various interactions of these cards, and now I want to make this classic deck of mine a Commander deck. The transition to Commander will be rough, but I’m hoping we have enough redundancy to make it work.

What am I talking about? Prior to Ice Age, Nether Shadow was a creature relegated to Lord of the Pit decks and fun themes. After Ice Age, we saw another creature that came back from the dead by itself. That one was much more powerful than Nether Shadow. Later, we would get more powerful tools for this deck archetype. Buried Alive, Krovikan Horror, Carionnette, Entomb, and more. The deck gained a lot of powerful friends and allies, but it always revolved around the same basic Nether Shadow theme—bringing back your dudes, and using them for various abilities.

In a previous article for SCG, I wrote a primer for this style of deck. I figure it’s time to take this to the next level and build the deck, in real life. A lot of the decks we writers build for articles are created in hyperspace and are not actually made. That’s not true of tournament articles or for every column/writer, but it is quite common. Today’s deck will be one I actually build. I want to play with it and enjoy all it has to offer.

The first issue I need to figure out is my theme. Other than Akuta, Born of Ash, none of the mono-black legendaries out there can come back from the graveyard on their own. Plus, I’m not sure that the Commander mechanic plays well with this theme. If your Commander bites it, you’ll probably just want to put it in the Command Zone. With that in mind, what choice do I have?

I take a look here with the SCG advanced search. (It’s the best one out there, by far, for finding things.) Here are the ones I find that most interest me:

Anowon, the Ruin Sage
Ascendant Evincar
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Iname, Death Aspect
Kuon, Ogre Ascendant
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker
Volrath the Fallen

Let’s talk about the value of each—sacrificing a creature is easy in this deck, so having either Anowon or Kuon should give this deck The Abyss as a general. This gives you a powerful creature control element while also supporting your theme of having creatures that will die easily and happily. Kuon’s flip trigger should be easy to hit.

Volrath will allow you to discard creatures to pump it. Not only will that make it more likely to deal 21 with it to kill someone, but it also supports the theme of getting creatures into your graveyard for various uses.

You will want a lot of creatures for the sacrifice elements the deck has, and having Endrek Sahr as my commander means I should have a strong potential for Thrull tokens to sacrifice. However, the Master Breeder only makes tokens when you play a creature spell, not when one enters the battlefield.

Sheoldred combines reanimation with creature removal of Kuon and Anowon. It’s expensive, and thus likely to get killed. A weaker creature control card is Ascendant Evincar, which makes your Nether Shadow and Ashen Ghoul creatures much more powerful.

Shirei supports the theme for smaller creatures. While the deck certainly will gave creatures to self recur, I’m not sure how many are in the one power or less range.

Finally, we have the subtle but useful Iname, Death Aspect. The first time you play it, you can fill up your graveyard with a lot of goodies, but then it’s all used up and becomes a vanilla 4/4 general for the rest of the game.

I easily cut Anowon, Kuon, and Shirei from consideration. I like Volrath, and this is a good deck for him. I like Iname, but the one shot nature is weak. I like Sheoldred, but it’s a bit expensive. I like the Evincar, but as a general, not the most glamorous guy for this deck. I like Endrek, but it doesn’t work perfectly with the deck.

I move Iname to the deck list and away from general contention. Volrath vs. Sheoldred vs. Ascendant Evincar vs. Endrek. Hmmm. I pull Volrath for not having the same level of power as the other two.

Let’s go with Sheoldred. It supports the theme best. Endrek and Iname and Ascendant Evincar are all in the deck, so if you want to slide to one of them, feel encouraged.

The core of the deck is playing and replaying creatures that sacrifice for various effects. You can sacrifice Bloodghast to a Skull Catapult, and then play a land to bring it back. Sacrifice Nether Traitor for an effect, then sacrifice something else and pay the {B} to bring the Traitor back. Sacrifice a Reassembling Skeleton and then pay two mana to bring it back and sacrifice again and again. There’s a lot of value from the core creatures in this deck.

The core recursive creatures are Nether Shadow, Ashen Ghoul, Nether Traitor, Bloodghast, Krovikan Horror, and Reassembling Skeleton. These six creatures are the ones you’ll likely Buried Alive and Corpse Connoisseur and such.

graveyard creatures

Here are some of the graveyard creatures in my deck. I used black sleeves because the deck is, well, black. All nice and ready to be put in a graveyard!

I mentioned how useful Iname was, and let’s take a look. Here are the good spirits that you can put in your graveyard from your library when it enters the battlefield—Nether Shadow, Nether Traitor, Bloodghast, Krovikan Horror—sound useful? In one sweep, you put four of the six key creatures in your graveyard that you can immediately recur. (I would stack them in this order—Nether Shadow on the bottom, Horror, then Traitor and Bloodghast). In fact, let’s talk about tribes a bit.

Here are the Zombies—Necrosavant, Nim Devourer, Vengeful Pharaoh, Undead Gladiator, Corpse Connoisseur, Stronghold Assassin and Twisted Abomination.

Here are the Skeletons—Carrionette, Reassembling Skeleton.

Why do I mention these various tribe inclusions? Well, Unholy Grotto obviously wants to recur a Zombie to the top of your deck, and we have a few choices. Cruel Revival has enough Zombies to grab one. I was considering Lord of the Undead for recursion and pump, but there just aren’t enough of the Zombies to matter. Other lords also got considered but rejected, such as Death Baron. This just isn’t the right deck for them. (For similar reasons, I did not add Ghastly Remains.)

How can we use and abuse these creatures? The first way is to have sacrifice outlets, and we have many. We can gain life from High Market or Miren, the Moaning Well. Gaining life is secondary, so I am not dedicating any cards (such as Life Chisel) to it beyond the lands.

Would you like to kill something? Attrition and Stronghold Assassin will send a creature to an early grave in order to kill another. Killing critters is always something you want. We can also deal damage from a sacrifice to Blasting Station, Skull Catapult or Krovikan Horror. You can tink at a foe’s life total or take out smaller creatures. Either way, you can get some nice value from your guys. Finally, you can trade creatures for artifacts with Gate to Phyrexia. The Gate gives you one outlet to wipe out artifacts, so enjoy it.

There are other sacrifice outlets. Want to force an opponent to discard? Take a look at Sadistic Hypnotist and Mind Slash. Want to draw cards? Carnage Altar and Infernal Tribute will assist. (Note that Infernal Tribute will sacrifice non-creatures but not tokens. If Vengeful Pharaoh is in your graveyard and kills something, but you don’t want to draw it, sacrifice Dakmor Salvage to draw a card. Use the dredge and put the Pharaoh back in your graveyard for more hunting.) There are also a few other ways to work with this sacrifice them I want to discuss.

We have two cards that want a creature sacrifice every upkeep to keep around, and both have a lot of power. Eldrazi Monument is money here and a great surprise. Contamination will lock out an opponent’s lands while also making your non-basics tap for {B} instead of their usual colorless. It’s a great surprise against someone not playing black.

Finally, look at the powerful Helm of Possession and Skullclamp. These put the previous sacrifice outlets on steroids. Let’s not just sacrifice a creature to kill something; let’s steal it! Let’s just not send a creature on a trip to the Carnage Altar; let’s get two cards from it with a Clamp! They are sacrifice outlets on steroids.

Since we are sacrificing creatures, I included a few cards that feed off of this. Sengir Autocrat brings three Serf tokens with it, and you can sac them for three effects while keeping it in play. Imagine playing it when you have a Sadistic Hypnotist in play. For no mana, you can sac the tokens for a Mind Rot from each. Ouch! Pawn of Ulamog will make a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token every time a non-token creature of yours bites it. That should happen pretty quickly and give you more fuel. Remember that Endrek Sahr wants you to play creatures to make 1/1 Thrulls for free. Sacrifice them before you get seven, and he’ll stay in play for a while. He wants creatures to be played, so start recurring Krovikan Horror to your hand and replaying it. That will make a ton of Thrulls. You can also use cards like Oversold Cemetery to abuse the Master Breeder.

While you are killing your creatures, note the sheer power of Grave Pact and Butcher of Malakir. You can easily be the only guy at the table with creatures once you get these working for you.

rest of the creatures

Here are the rest of the creatures in my deck, all ready for both shenanigans and the red zone.

While this deck has few true reanimation cards, it does have enough to keep things interesting. Use and abuse the ones you do have. Victimize will swap one creature in play for two from your graveyard (tapped). Nether Shadow would love to hit the graveyard for a Scion of Darkness and Avatar of Woe. I included just enough beaters to make the few cards like this useful. I also included dudes with cycling to get into your graveyard—Scion of Darkness, Twisted Abomination, and Undead Gladiator. The Gladiator can trade for a creature card in your hand, so you can cycle it, and then swap it for a Butcher of Malakir and cycle again. Meanwhile, you Victimize into that Butcher.

While on the topic of big creatures, please note that we have a few creatures that are included solely based off their ability to rock a black deck and add some removal. Avatar of Woe can be easily played with a reduced cost and will represent a true foe. We have five creatures that kill things when they enter play. Solemn is a great card for grabbed a Swamp as well as getting tossed in front of an attacker or being used for one of the many sacrifice outlets here.

Another couple of creatures played for their ability to slide into the deck (and yet not really on theme) are Keeper of the Dead and Sewer Nemesis. The Keeper is great when surrounded by a thick graveyard, so it rocks here. Sewer Nemesis is a fine beater and allows you to self mill at a solid clip. While you can use it on someone else, I prefer to just target myself with the guy and then roll.

Note that we have the Filth combo with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Below we’ll see all of the non-land, non-critters in my deck. It’s a nice section.

The Non-Creatures

Remember to use cards like Tortured Existence to set up a Living Death, swap with cyclers, put creatures cards on top of an Ashen Ghoul, recur a Shriekmaw, grab a beater, or take anything else you need. This is your Survival of the Fittest, so use it well. 

The best way to play this deck is to know your weaknesses ahead of the game. You hate graveyard removal and removal that exiles your creatures. If you are playing against someone who you suspect has exiling removal, you need to keep sacrifice outlets open so that, as an instant you can keep Swords to Plowshares from sending your Bloodghast to the farm, permanently. You can sacrifice it to a Carnage Altar or High Market, but make sure you have an out.

Graveyard removal is a kick in the crotch. It can disable you if you’ve set up. You need to be able to read the table. Understand that you have no recursion for any card which is not a creature (except for Dakmor Salvage). You don’t have threshold, and except for Sewer Nemesis, you have nothing that cares about the size of your yard. When these things hit your graveyard, use Reito Lantern or Junktroller to move them to your library. That way, you have a chance of getting another Buried Alive, Demonic Tutor, Skullclamp, Grave Pact, etc. This enables your deck to keep playing past its sell by date.

If you read the table, then you can figure out if someone has graveyard removal. If you suspect it, keep restocking your deck with good creatures, and only keep a few in the graveyard at a time. Instead of Nether Shadow and Ashen Ghoul, pull out and abuse Bloodghast and Reassembling Skeleton. Restock that Corpse Connoisseur instead of leaving it around for an unearth. Don’t grab cards that linger, like Filth or Vengeful Pharaoh, but cards you can proactively get out and abuse. Don’t leave cards in your graveyard to get hit by a Bojuka Bog or Tormod’s Crypt. Leave mana open to use a Reito Lantern or Tortured Existence in response to targeted graveyard removal. If you play against removal smart, it won’t hurt you too badly. You need the Reito Lantern, and don’t be afraid to tutor for it instead of Buried Alive (your normal default tutor target).

Here are the non-basic lands from my deck.

The Non-Basics

There are some cards that I didn’t include because I don’t own extra copies or I couldn’t find space. I don’t have Endless Cockroaches or Entomb. Both would have a home in this deck. I don’t like Brood of Cockroaches due to the life loss, but Endless ones are not bad. Entomb just costs way too much money to buy a few copies for my decks, so I do without. However, I have a full set of Bazaars going back to the old days when it was cheap, so tossing in one works and fits the deck.  

Similarly, I wanted Karn Liberated in this deck. His ability to take out any permanent is quite valuable in a color that doesn’t have enchantment removal. In fact, with just Gate to Phyrexia as artifact removal, Karn would essentially double your ability to take them out as well. I just could never find a space.

Anyway, there’s the deck. Everybody loves Nether Shadow and its friends. Now you can play a deck that rocks them all!


Until Later,
Abe Sargent