The Kitchen Table: Random Commander #1

This week Abe set out build a Commander deck around a randomly chosen legendary creature. Read on to find out what he was given to work with and the result!

What happens when you select a legendary creature at random and are forced to build a deck around your result?  Will you get something interesting or something . . . less sterling? I’ve done a lot of random projects for SCG over the years, choosing a random tribe, random bad rare, or a random card to build from. I used to load up special lists and roll dice, but this time I’m just going to hit random card on Gatherer until a legendary creature arrives. What will I be forced to build around?

I hit about twenty cards or so, and then my first legendary selection arrives. Johnny, Combo Player. Well, I forgot to mention that my selection has to be legal in Commander. So let’s keep going. I pass by Questing Phelddagrif and have to double check it—nope, not legendary. Another twenty-ish cards pass by and include two planeswalkers. But then my first Commander-legal body arrives: Grimgrin, Corpse-Born.

To Zombie or not to Zombie?  That’s a major question I have to answer before building my deck. Will this deck have a tribal theme? It certainly could, led by stalwarts like Lord of the Undead and Cemetery Reaper. Both are amazing in a deck built around Grimgrin. Or I could go with a creature base that loves recursion—examples include Bloodghast, Reassembling Skeleton, and Nether Traitor. Alternatively, I could look at making tokens, led by Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder or Oona, Queen of the Fae.

Which direction looks useful? I love Grimgrin in red. It would be great to give him a bunch of Relentless Assault effects and multiple attack triggers to sacrifice stuff. But we don’t have a lot of choices like that in the Dimir colors, and I’m not sure I want too many Time Walk effects.

So let’s build a deck!

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born
Abe Sargent
Test deck on 12-01-2013

I intentionally skipped some of the obvious choices, like the combos around Rooftop Storm and Gravecrawler or the one with Triskelion and Mikaeus. I just wanted to create a fun little Grimgrin deck. I decided against the Zombie theme, and thus I kept out choices such as Vengeful Dead as well as many others mentioned above. I wanted a different take on Grimgrin.

Before I figured out which direction I wanted my deck to take, I started including synergic elements. Obviously, the deck would have some sort of a sacrifice theme. Therefore, I started to look at death triggers. What are some good cards that have neat effects when a creature bites it? Two classic options arose: Grave Pact and its friend Butcher of Malakir. Both turn one of my dead creatures into a nasty edict on everyone else. They are best friends with this sort of deck.

And I didn’t end things there. For example, Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble will deal some life loss and life gain when stuff bites it. Those are useful triggers. I also incorporated Harvester of Souls. As long as it’s not a token creature, when another dork dies I draw a card with the Harvester on the battlefield (that’s even true of other creatures, such as yours and Bob’s and Rachel’s). While it doesn’t have perfect synergy with the deck (excluding the death of tokens is sad), it certainly does a lot.

As does Murder of Crows! Anytime another creatures dies (even tokens), you can effectively loot a card, drawing and discarding to keep your hand in good shape. Since it’s a may effect, you aren’t forced into it. And that’s not all. Jar of Eyeballs will net two counters on it when something of mine dies as well (again, including tokens). Those bodies turn into some good digging and card drawing. And those aren’t the only ways of drawing cards when stuff bites it—see also Dark Prophecy. Sure, you lose a life each trigger, but since you start at 40 life (and since there are many ways to gain life in the deck), I think you’ll be okay.

One way of gaining life is Deathgreeter, a tricky little one-drop that will gain you a life each time someone dies. Another life-gain effect is Sylvok Lifestaff. Note that our good Lifestaff costs just one mana to equip to a creature, and then you can sacrifice it to trigger Grimgrin (or other stuff too). That single mana merits the deck a nice three life. Also in Equipment, Thornbite Staff will put an untap trigger on the equipped creature when any creature (even opposing ones) are put into the graveyard. That can be very nasty for this deck.

And that’s not all! You also have fun tricks with Reaper of the Abyss! (Just kill a non-Demon at the end of any turn when something died—you can throw someone at Grimgrin for the kill.) 

Next up I went and added some card to keep our guys safe. Since we should have dying critters all over the battlefield, in went some ways of preventing death (or adding to it). For example, consider Nim Deathmantle. Whenever a creature is sacrificed, just spend four mana to bring it right back into play. Sure, that’s a bit pricey, but you can also use it for other things such as protecting loved ones from removal.

Cauldron of Souls will play a similar trick, bringing back dead creatures with -1/-1 counters on them for another go. That will give you two takes at the till for every creature you have. For similar reasons, consider Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. You harvest a bigger creature when your stuff bites it. Plus, the Cauldron and him work well together since you can bring back a creature with persist the first time, and then with undying the second and so forth.

Another trick is Deathrender. Equip a creature before you sacrifice it and then you can plop any creature from your hand right onto the battlefield and wielding Deathrender. Once again a useful outlet for death has been unearthed.

After that I began to add some additional sacrifice outlets to the deck. In went Attrition to sacrifice to kill stuff and Carnage Altar for card sacrifices. I considered others as well, but these were my best choices. I ran out of room for others, such as Blasting Station, Diamond Valley, and Gate to Phyrexia. They give the deck a little backup. A final addition was Skullclamp to equip on small x/1 creatures for cards and on smaller ones before they are sacrificed for cards too.

Once I knew what my engines and trigger cards were going to be, then I knew the direction the rest of my deck would take. I knew that I wanted a mixture of creatures with recursion built in and token making. Thus I looked into both places.

Gravecrawler is great because you can play it again and again if your general is in play (it’s a Zombie after all). Similarly, the aforementioned Reassembling Skeleton and Bloodghast are great pawns for sacrificing to Grimgrin.

After those three were in, I looked for 1/1 creatures since they are “Clamp-able.” I mentioned Oona, Queen of the Fae above, and she’s a great way to make a lot of tokens en masse while also annoying other decks considerably by exiling parts of their library. Another option was Endrek Sahr, who brought Meloku to the party with him. Even Ogre Slumlord jumped in because he makes dorks and also because he gives me another trigger. He fits in two different ways!

Of course, my token making did not end there. Check out Bitterblossom, who gives the deck a free 1/1 creature each turn. Snake Basket can sacrifice to produce a large number of Snakes, and even Trading Post can make a 0/1 Goat by tapping and using a life. I even found space for the land Springjack Pasture. The final addition was Army of the Damned to create an instant horde of Zombies for either damage dealing or fueling the fires of this deck.

Then I had layered the deck with the right cards for Grimgrin, so I began to wrap things up. In went Sol Ring, Mind Stone, and Darksteel Ingot to help out with mana needs. For fetching, I looked up Solemn Simulacrum and Armillary Sphere.

Next was some additional removal. Sure, the addition of cards such as Attrition and Grave Pact plus Grimgrin’s death trigger gave it some removal already, but I wanted a bit more. Duplicant can exile a nasty creature in ways already known to Commander players around the globe. Add in stuff like Decree of Pain and Karn Liberated and we give the deck a few flexible answers.

I liked the idea of Relentless Assault in the deck, so I added two Time Walk effects to keep things running. I also added Wonder and Vela, the Night-Clad. Both help Grimgrin get in an attack without forcing a blocker. No one wants to have a Grimgrin ready to attack but will die when blocked. Either flying or intimidate will assist is slipping him through.

For similar reasons, both Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots are around. Both enable you to cast Grimgrin, sacrifice something, and then give him haste to hit either an empty board or a tapped out one. Plus they can protect him (or other key creatures) as needed.

A few cards were then added here and there to wrap things up. In went a few counters and card drawing, as did the devastating Eldrazi Monument. In this deck it could be a kick in the face. Volrath’s Stronghold and Academy Ruins were deemed appropriate. A few other cards crept in: Crypt Incursion, Profane Command, Sphinx of Uthuun, and Rite of Replication among others.

And with that the deck concept was done! I cut a lot of Equipment from the deck, like Moonsilver Spear and Whispersilk Cloak. The Cloak helps to ensure a successful attack by Grimgrin, and the Spear gives an extra attack trigger each combat phase. Other cards I pulled include Skirsdag High Priest, Violet Pall, Sengir Autocrat, Ophiomancer, Call of the Nightwing, Homarid Spawning Bed, Geist Snatch, and Genesis Chamber. I’m sure that you could think of lots of directions to go with your own deck.

I hope that you found some inspiration in today’s random Commander deck. If you liked the project, perhaps we could do some more!

Until later,
Abe Sargent

P.S. – Bonjour Fairfield Connecticut! My first week of work at Fairfield University has arrived, and I am now officially a resident of Connecticut. So if you are in the area and your inclination is on the casual side of life, hit me up at euplatious AT hotmail-dot-com and we’ll chat.