Uncle Istvan’s Maddening Deck

Commander is all about exploratory deckbuilding in a fun, flavorful format, and Abe takes that to heart while continuing to explore non-legendary creatures filling in that Commander’s role by building a new deck around a crazy axe murderer.

A few weeks ago I published an article where I reviewed some other non-legendary options for your Commander decks. Then I built a Sindbad deck to illustrate what a deck around one of those options might look like.

Ever since then I’ve been thinking about ways to play around with a few other cards that are mentioned. My favorite category of the ones mentioned is the proto-Legendary one – creatures that were made before Legendary creatures were a concept but which represent a single character. Cards like Sindbad or King Suleiman or…

So today I thought it would be a blast of fun to get your Uncle Istvan on, and see what we could do with him.

So who is Uncle Istvan? From the art and the flavor text, here is what we know about him:

  • Uncle Istvan used to be a solitary hermit
  • The Uncle is now certifiably insane
  • He catches people and then kills them for his company (See the skulls in the art)

He is the definition of a crazy axe murderer, with crazy, axe, and murderer all a suitable portrayal of who he is. Alright, with that in mind here we go…

And there we are! After I knew that I was going to toss together an Uncle Istvan deck, what do you imagine is the first card that I added to the deck? I often started with either mana to get is completed early (Command Tower, Sol Ring, etc) or I’ll go to heavily thematic cards that are required to work. But not so here.

The first card that I added to this deck was Butcher’s Cleaver. It’s a perfect fit for the deck, first of all, because It’s a bit of a crazy bloody cleaver/axe/knife thing. Second of all, Uncle Istvan is a Human, so you can toss it on him and he becomes a 4/4 lifelink fool. It’s just an ideal match.

After tossing in the Cleaver, I knew where to go next. Can you imagine a deck that’s a better thematic fit for madness? I can’t! So I tossed in virtually every black card that was ever printed with the Madness mechanic.

The first slate of madness-inducing creatures are pretty strong. Nightshade Assassin and Big Game Hunter will play the role of Shriekmaw or Nekrataal in this deck. They are more flexible in some circumstances – Big Game Hunter doesn’t care about the color of its target. As long as the creature is big enough, even black creatures will die to a Hunter. Most of the stuff you want to kill is big anyways. Meanwhile the Nightshade Assassin can actually kill an indestructible creature if you have enough black cards in your hand.

I once had a Five Color, 250 card deck with a strong Madness theme, so I’m familiar with how these cards play in multiplayer and larger decks.

You have to Madness out Grave Scrabbler, and when you do, it will help push your deck in the right way. A Madness deck tends to discard a lot of cards and put its own creatures in the graveyard, so you can Madness the Scrabbler into play and then return a creature card to either play or otherwise discard to get an additional effect. Another fun trick is to Madness out Gorgon Recluse to block an attack or to toss out Muck Drubb to force a key spell to hit the Drubb instead.

After the creatures, we have some seriously useful spells. Dark Withering is a perfect removal spell for Madnessing on the cheap, and Ichor Slick gives you another removal spell as well. You can cycle and then madness the Slick and then get both a card and the -3/-3 effect on a creature to give you a smattering of card advantage.

But the best spell by far to Madness out is Call of the Netherworld. It’s an amazing card to Madness, since it’s a zero mana effect. Sure, you can only bring back a black creature, but does that seem like much of a disadvantage here? As I’ve mentioned before, you are discarding and losing thing all over, so bringing back a creature without having to invest any mana at all is pretty useful.

Next up with have Gibbering Descent. The Madness trigger lets you drop it earlier, and you can begin to force everyone to lose their hands and some life too. (And if you’ve been made devoid of your whole hand, you don’t lose any life at all due to the hellbent ability!)

Our final madness trick is to drop Strength of Lunacy on something, preferably Uncle Istvan. Yes, that’s right, Strength of Lunacy on a crazy guy. You can’t get better than that!

Now that we have some fun Madness tricks, the next place to look is useful discard effects. I don’t want too many, that’s not the only pony for this show. Pack Rat is a great, repeatable effect to get you a bunch of Pack Rats. And if the occasional card discarded is Gorgon Recluse or Muck Drubb, you’ll be okay.

I added a few solid discard adjuncts to the deck. Undertaker fits in perfectly in the “bring stuff back” venue that cards like Call to the Netherworld and Grave Scrabbler are already mining. You can use Urborg Syphon-Mage to launch the occasional Syphon Soul at the table to winnow some life from your foes and bump yours up. Shoot, you can even use Deal Broker as a looter and tap to draw one card, discard it, and then cast it for its Madness cost… or you can just Broker all day long as a Merfolk Looter without needing to trigger a Madness card.

Take a look at Mindlash Sliver. You can sacrifice this one-drop to force everyone to discard. This is a pretty strong way to get a Madness trigger. It’s just one mana for you to trigger, it, so you’ll have plenty of mana left over for paying Madness costs. Meanwhile you force everyone else to lose a card, so you are seeing a strong board presence. At a four player game, your Sliver:

You sacrifice your Sliver. You are -1 card.

Your three foes each discard. You are +3 cards.

Your discard is actually turned into a madness card and is played instead. Suppose it’s just a Gorgon Recluse.

Results – You lose a Sliver, your foes lost three cards, and you saved some mana getting your Recluse into play. That’s a solid way to open the game, and things can get better from there.

You can find a few other discard outlets here and there, I don’t want to waste your time by belaboring them all here. Remember that black loves discard, so there are tons of ways you can add discard activations to your deck!

The next place I wanted to go was to fully explore the madness, murderer, and crazy themes of Uncle Istvan. Where best to begin?

Well, you have to run Murder. If I gave you a Murder-less decklist, you would rightfully laugh me off the stage. I also see Istvan as a real Go for the Throat sort of guy. Can’t you just envision the same artwork, but with Istvan’s face and his axe at the throat of the victim? So awesome.

After that, I wanted to delve more fully into maddening effects. In black, most maddening and crazy effects seem to revolve around discarding so let’s embrace that a bit more. I don’t want to push that too much. I don’t want to turn this into Istvan’s Discount Discard Deck. I don’t want Geth’s Grimoire, Liliana’s Caress, and every possible discard effect since 1994. But some make a lot of sense.

If you met Uncle Istvan in real life, wouldn’t you feel a little Unnerved? I certainly would. And forcing everyone else to discard a pair of cards is a great way to force them to pay respect to Commander Istvan.

While it’s a perfect fit flavor-wise, Brink of Madness also works mechanically. Your hand could easily get dropped quickly. When it does, just sacrifice the Brink in your upkeep to Wit’s End another player. You can also use Descent into Madness to keep control of the board and to add counters to it to force folks to choose between cards in the hand or permanents on the battlefield. And if you don’t want it around any longer, you can just exile it to itself. The fact that you are exiling things can make your foes very uncomfortable.

After that, I tossed in a single Syphon Mind and a Noxious Toad to mug up the battlefield. You’ll note that Noxious Toad will force all of your opponents to discard a card when it dies. It’s not a bad card by any stretch of the imagination.

With enough discarding, I felt that Waste Not would be a useful addition to the deck, but that’s where I ended the love of discard. Even Istvan recycles! From using the blood of his victims to water his plants to using bones as funky totems and ornaments, he’s very sustainable.

With the Butcher’s Cleaver already in the deck, I knew I was going to come back and hit up some more stuff for our crazy Uncle to wear. I wish that we had some equipment that would allow a creature to block any number of creatures. That would be Uncle Istvan’s best friend. Instead we just have Vanguard’s Shield, which will allow him to give the gift of his axe to an additional attacker.

There are some zany equipment choices that just work really well with our homicidal hero. This isn’t a deck for Umezawa’s Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice. Nope! Instead, consider Nemesis Mask. Istvan dons the Mask and then attacks. Every opposing creature that can block must block the Uncle of Love. But your Uncle doesn’t die. It’s still rocking the roost. So if you attack with your en-Masked Commander on one side, and then every other creature on the other, all of those creatures are getting through. Because Istvan with a Mask is just too hard to not block. I mean there’s something hypnotic about him. And that sexy beard.

If you want to flip the script and slip through, what about Hot Soup? You can toss it on Istvan and swing through. Remember if the wielder of Hot Soup takes damage, they die. But Istvan won’t take damage from creatures, so the only way you can get that Hot Soup off and to slay him is with jank like Pestilence or Tremor or Lightning Bolt or something. (You could toss a Pariah’s Shield on him too…)

Now that we have equipment, madness, support, and various thematic cards have been tossed in, let’s add in a few more creatures to do things with. A deck that has too many tricks, and not enough treats won’t win easily. Don’t neglect the Red Zone because you are doing fancy things with your triggers and activations and such.

I felt that a few old-school legendary creatures would fit the theme. Chainer, Dementia Master was the first entry. Chainer brings the crazy out of Istvan, and his ability to bring back dead things slides in nicely with those discard and madness themes. Note that Chainer can pull out a creature card from other graveyards too, so you can activate it after something like Unnerve.

Volrath the Fallen is also old-school, and provides another fun discard outlet if you care. Grandmother Sengir seems to work alongside other –X/–X effects we have in the deck, such as Ichor Slick.While they are newer, I also think that both Hythonia the Cruel and Neferox, Overlord of Grixis are suitable additions to our Istvan fun. Oh, how about Mirri the Cursed as well?

There we are. That’s a good slate of creatures to round out what we are doing.

With only a few slots left for the deck to mine those flavorful themes, I wanted to push some cards in that assuage the weaknesses we have. One of the greatest issues with a discard/madness deck is having cards in your hand. There are a few ways to fight against this in the deck. The first is Blood Scrivener. Note that it works any time you go to draw a card, not just when you draw in your draw step or anything like that, so it works with anything that would draw you a card. It’s pretty useful in that role. You can also activate Loreseeker’s Stone to draw three cards, and the fewer cards you have in your hand the cheaper it is to Ancestral Recall yourself. (If you enjoy that concept, you could toss in something like Fool’s Tome.)

The Emmessi Tome is a great way to draw cards and to give us a discard trigger too. Oh, and the Cursed Scroll can be easily activated here as well, it’s a fun addition.

Hmm… Chainer has led me to a new direction to explore. Know what’s a classic old-school card in the first set that fits here? Nightmare! We don’t have a lot of flying creatures, so we get a real player there, and we have 33 Swamps in the deck to harness to make it better. Nightmare fits. And what about Nightmare Incursion? Wouldn’t it also fit the deck? It uses the power of Swamps, it can exile a bunch of annoying cards in other decks, and it looks like it might work well.

So after tossing in those Nightmare-themed cards, we are pretty much done. The final cards are those that fight against annoying things at the Commander table – Bojuka Bog, Crypt Incursion, Strip Mine, etc. I even slipped in a Pontiff of Blight to add to the slow draining the deck runs.

And that’s an Istvan deck folks. That’s a sexy deck.

What did you think? Anything in there that appeals to you? Do you have any recommendations? Have you ever built a Commander deck around a non-legendary creature?

Crazy? Check! Axe? Check! Murderer? Check!

Uncle Istvan for the win!