How New Secret Lair Releases Refreshed My Commander Deck

Chase Carroll’s all-Secret Lair Commander deck is the best kind of work in progress. See how they’ve updated the list with new releases!

Lord Windgrace
Lord Windgrace, illustrated by TATAMEPI

A few months back, I wrote about my process when building my all-Secret Lair deck. The piece covered my journey from start to finish, from choosing a Commander to selecting the basics.

Well, the decklist I have now compared to that of October differs greatly. I believe decks are never truly finished. New cards mean new possible interactions for Commander brews, and new Secret Lairs mean an even greater card pool. Because of this expanded pool, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at my deckbuilding process and why I made the changes I did. 


I suppose the best place to start is at the top of the list with planeswalkers! My previous iteration of this decklist had five planeswalkers, whereas my new list has seven, with four being new additions to the deck. While some might think these swaps were made out of aesthetic desires, I feel as though these swaps have strengthened the overall deck.

Out: Domri Rade and Garruk, Caller of Beasts

I no longer run Domri Rade or Garruk, Caller of Beasts, simply because they felt out of place. Garruk is better suited in mono-green decks, and Domri was a pseudo-attempt at card advantage. In fact, he was originally there to fill out the deck’s mana value/color identity requirements. He was just there. If I drew him, I cast him, but I would never search for him. So who took their places?

In: Dack Fayden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Dack Fayden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor came in to help sharpen up this deck’s card draw package. Past Brainstorm and Ponder, this deck was rather weak in that department. Of course, they both had attractive ultimates, but the main focus was card advantage. I also liked their secondary abilities. Jace being able to bounce and peek at people’s libraries made games more interactive, and Dack’s artifact theft could potentially snag me something incredibly powerful that might not be in a Secret Lair. My matchups felt a lot stronger with these two.

In: Lord Windgrace

My next inclusion was Lord Windgrace! I won’t lie, I initially added him because the Secret Lair art is precious (and reminds me of one of my cats); however, I found that he is particularly strong in this list.

Yes, he draws cards, but I found him to be a great help in ramping! This deck runs numerous fetchlands, which can be pretty nice to get back with Windgrace’s -2. While it’s not a main focus for me, I have been able to achieve the -11 and essentially clear the battlefield of a few threats and problems. While I do have my hesitations with him, he seems like a decent fit for now.

In: Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh

My final addition to the planeswalkers might seem excessive to some, but it is a potent closer for others: it’s Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. This card exceeds Sisay, Weatherlight Captain’s natural stopping point of six-mana tutoring, and yet I find myself snagging this card consistently. Bolas does it all. He steals cards from others, reduces their grip, and acts as increasing amounts of dastardly removal. I pulled a foil version in my 30th Anniversary Lair drop and threw him in for giggles, and found that he has a permanent home in this list due to the sheer amount of utility he provides. 


Wooh! Okay. Here we go! The meat of changes with my Sisay list stem majorly from the creature section. Whenever a new Secret Lair is printed, the card pool for this concept gets that much bigger, and there have been loads of Lairs printed since my first article.

Out: Brimaz, Captain Sisay, Dakkon

Let’s start with the outs. Brimaz, King of Oreskos was the first to go. This card felt too cute. I would never search for him, and when he was in my hand, it always felt like a major letdown. The next to get the axe was Captain Sisay. To be honest, she is just a slower version of my commander, and this deck has the need for speed. While two Sisays are usually better than one, in this case the adage wasn’t true. Dakkon Blackblade was another card I parted ways with. While he fits Sisay’s needs for multiple colors, he was just too expensive mana-wise for me to justify. 

Out: Galina, Partners

Next is Empress Galina. When I say that this Secret Lair art was some of my favorite within the deck, I mean it. I absolutely fell in love with it at first sight. So why chop it? Sadly, Empress Galina raises major alarms when she hits the battlefield. Most assume that I want to steal their commander and hard-target her for removal. While I love her, she sadly was expendable.

Other expendable pieces included two sets of partners: Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend; and Mike, the Dungeon Master and Chief Jim Hopper. Pir and Toothy seemed to be doing their own thing. Card draw and counters in a deck not focusing on that theme just felt off. Mike was good recursion (albeit limited) and Jim did help draw you cards, but both of them just felt so slow. They were ultimately cut because of these odd synergies.

Out: Yidris, Thalia, Rograkh

Oh boy, we aren’t done yet. Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder felt more like an addition based solely on color identity/mana value. I never found myself really swinging or connecting with him, so it seemed reasonable to chop him. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben was ultimately cut (and swapped out for a different Thalia) because I hated how she impacted my noncreature spells. My final cut was one I actually kind of regret taking out: Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh. He may seem odd, but sometimes it can be difficult to buff Sisay early-game, and tutoring for a zero-mana-value creature with her is rather easy and can modestly increase her power and toughness. Is it great? No. Do I want to add it back in? Yes.

In: Thalia, Nashi, Etali

Okay, now we are finally in the swaps portion of the creatures. It only took 80,000 years! Wooh! Starting out, we have the Thalia swap. The list’s new Thalia is Thalia, Heretic Cathar. I much prefer her slowing down my opponents with tapped creatures and nonbasics than increasing mana values by one.

Next, we have Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion and Etali, Primal Storm! I love these creatures because they both let me steal cards from my opponents amidst combat. This deck likes to swing a lot, so why not gain some value off of it? 

In: Solemn Simulacrum, Ojutai, Questing Beast

Speaking of value, this deck now also has a bit more card advantage in the form of Solemn Simulacrum and Dragonlord Ojutai. Sad robot does it all (after all, he is a Commander all-star), and Ojutai is great for mana value, is a flying body, and lets you put something into your hand from the top of your library when he makes contact. He was a sort of experimental addition that I haven’t regretted yet.

Speaking of experimental, I am currently testing the waters with Questing Beast. This novel of a card is in this decklist for one reason alone: “Combat damage that would be dealt by creatures you control can’t be prevented.” When this deck swings, it swings hard and wants to make sure you soak up every point of damage.

In: The From Cute to Brute Crew

Our next few additions all come from the From Cute to Brute Secret Lair deck. We have Archangel Avacyn; Esika, God of the Tree; and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. These three cards have been insane powerhouses and will most assuredly have forever homes in my list. Avacyn is instant protection, Bolas is powerful on either side, and Esika turns all of your legendary creatures into mana creatures! In fact, at one point I considered switching my commander over to Esika; however, she felt too slow to me. I have been spoiled by Sisay.

In: A Very Special Shivan Dragon

My final addition to the creatures might not seem like a powerful card to add. In fact, some would say that it is bad in 2023. I say they’re wrong. My final creature is the serialized Shivan Dragon from MagicCon Philadelphia. For days, I had been searching for this piece to add into my deck. I was practically feral for it. On Sunday (the final day), I had given up hope until Branden came up and offered it to me. He wasn’t event staff. He was someone who followed me. I was flabbergasted and excited and shocked and feeling a lot of things. The Dragons were the talk of the town that weekend, and he had just given me one. I thanked him profusely and have kept the card in my deck ever since. It will never leave my list as long as I play this game.

Instants / Sorceries

Out: Removal and Berserk

This will be the only time I will ever say this. I ran too much removal. More often than not, I discovered myself having answers to problems that didn’t even exist. I wanted to make sure this deck never wanted for “staples,” and yet I found myself running an excess. Whenever I wanted a creature, I would draw into removal instead. It was frustrating. As much as I didn’t want to, I ended up cutting Damnation, Jaya’s Immolating Inferno, Artifact Mutation, and Krosan Grip.

That’s not all I cut, though. Berserk initially hurt. While it could catapult me into victory in the blink of an eye, it just felt…not me. It made Sisay surpass her natural power/toughness of 7/7, which meant she could snag anything she wanted from the deck. It felt like it created gotcha moments in the middle of combat, and more often than not those led to bad feelings from my opponents. While I love to win, I also don’t want to do it at the expense of others. Therefore, it had to go. 

In: Cleansing Nova, Giant Growth, Eldritch Evolution

The additions to my spells were a bit minimal and yet rounded out the deck smoothly.

Cleansing Nova took Damnation’s place. While I will admit I prefer the art and views of Rebecca Guay, it also felt like a better spell because it gives me the option to destroy creatures or artifacts/enchantments. That kind of versatility is hard to beat.

In place of Berserk, I added Giant Growth. Is it a better spell? Not by any means, but this card was gifted to me by a friend and has such a strong sentimental value. Charles saw me hunting for one the entire time I was in Minneapolis and made my weekend with it. Plus, it feels a bit more balanced when compared to the powerhouse of Berserk.

My final addition to this section actually came in the mail a few days ago. My friend surprised me with the Eldritch Evolution prize card one day, knowing I had a coveted Lair deck. I was beyond tickled and knew that such a gift had to make its home in my deck. Eldritch Evolution makes for an interesting tutor alternative to Sisay. While I initially wanted to avoid tutors in this list (since my Commander is one), Evolution isn’t limited to legendaries like Sisay. While the deck is strong, it isn’t perfect, and sometimes it needs the extra help with a funky piece like this.


The changes made in the artifacts were incredibly minimal. In fact, we only removed one and added two new artifacts!

Out: Howling Mine

While I adore Howling Mine as a card, it wasn’t doing enough. When it did come up, it helped others more than it helped me. Thankfully, I have a snazzy new planeswalker to take care of my card draw issues. Once that was removed, it was time to add some pretty pieces of cardboard.

In: Amulet of Vigor

The first artifact addition was one that I forgot was even a Lair. Amulet of Vigor came out in the Extra Life 2020 drop alongside Teferi’s Protection, Collected Company, and Consecrated Sphinx. I saw it randomly sitting in a case at my LGS and knew it was the perfect card for my deck. This deck runs a fair amount of shocklands, and while they can be pretty convenient, taking two damage for untapped lands sucks. Amulet also makes it so my World Tree and Hall of the Bandit Lord enter the battlefield untapped as well, making them infinitely better! What started out as a random LGS pick up turned into a staple for this list.

In: Chrome Mox

My final artifact addition was one I kicked myself for not running as soon as I got it. Like everyone who purchased the 30th Anniversary Lair, I was in possession of a Chrome Mox by Dan Frazier. It felt like actual gold in my hands. Though I was giddy with it, I was letting it rot in my binder. I was too nervous to run it, and yet the allure of exiling a Bolas on Turn 1 for a Grixis mana rock was too strong. I was also worried about possibly sending the wrong message with my deck. Moxen are iconic power pieces that alert astute players to beware! While my deck is strong, it is nowhere near an Archenemy. Thankfully, after multiple games and playtesting, it acts as more of a strong statement piece than anything.


It’s sad to say that the enchantment section of this article will be incredibly brief, as there are zero new additions to the deck. In fact, there are fewer enchantments now than back then.

Burgeoning, while great in opening hands, also felt like an ornamental piece when drawn late-game, and although Concordant Crossroads is an amazing card, I wanted to be selfish and deny my opponents the benefit of haste. Both cards are amazing in their own right, but fell prey to make more spots for other additions elsewhere in the list.


Weirdly enough, the lands are similar to the enchantments in how there are so few changes. I swapped out a few basics for this deck to have access to some fun utility lands. The World Tree acts as a pseudo-Chromatic Lantern, allowing me to tap freely without worrying after six lands. Exotic Orchard acts as a cutesy version of Command Tower (plus the art is to die for).

Lastly, we have Hall of the Bandit Lord. This is my way of solving haste in this deck without universally granting it with Concordant Crossroads. While it does enter the battlefield tapped, it is tutorable with Sisay, making it a slam dunk in my list.

A Deck Evolved

Wowie zowie, and there you have it: my updated Secret Lair decklist. The entire concept of this list has been a weird labor of love. It’s flashy, it’s powerful, it’s expensive. While many people hate Secret Lairs, I have an ever-loving fondness for them. I also think the nature of this deck highlights how a commander deck can never truly be finished. There will always be something new and exciting on the horizon that hasn’t been previewed yet, or maybe you just haven’t discovered it.

Either way, I encourage you to take a look at your commander decklists and ask yourself, “Is this really done?” You might just be surprised at the answer. Happy brewing, deckbuilders!