Commander Top 10: Michonne, Ruthless Survivor

Magic: The Gathering and horror fan Bennie Smith shapes a Walking Dead-themed Commander deck around Michonne, Ruthless Survivor.

The Magic community has been abuzz this week since the announcement of the new product, Secret Lair X The Walking Dead, which drops today (Sunday, October 4) and will be available to buy through October 12.  The cards included in this drop will be completely new to Magic, depicting the iconic characters of the long-running and critically acclaimed TV series. These are mechanically unique cards that will be legal in Eternal formats—like Commander!  The first card they previewed depicts fan favorite Michonne:

What I find personally cool about this product is how it ties into two long-running loves in my life—Magic: The Gathering of course, and horror.  And the two actually tie in together in my long-ago youth.  If you’d indulge me to reveal a little biography…

When I was a pre-teen, I got hooked on reading fantasy thanks to my uncle Gary’s love of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga. A cousin on the other side of my family found out about my love of fantasy and introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons, which lead me to make a lifelong group of gaming friends that I played D&D with for decades, and when Magic came out it was directly appealing to us in the D&D crowd.

But circling back to my middle-school years, I was obsessed with reading good fantasy books, and one hot summer day I’d finished the very last book in my stack of “to read” series.  Luckily, the Bookmobile was scheduled to make a stop in my neighborhood, and I eager jumped aboard that air-conditioned haven from the heat and made my way to the Fantasy & Horror shelves. Prominently displayed was this book:

Keep in mind, this was 1979 and I’d never heard of Stephen King or the genre he wrote in. All I knew was, that cover art of The Stand looked like a fantasy novel: a human in medieval garb is crossing his sword with a crow-man wielding a sickle. And that hardcover tome was mammoth, very nearly 1,000 pages. I was incredibly excited to get it home and start my adventures in a new fantastical world.

Only, it wasn’t set in a fantastical world.  It was our world. In the beginning a sick dude crashed his car into a gas station in some tiny hick town in East Texas. I was confused, but I’d read a couple books in the Thomas Covenant Saga, which starts in our real world but then switches to the fantasy realm.  Maybe The Stand would do something similar?  So I plowed ahead hopeful the switch would happen in the next few pages.

500 pages in and I didn’t care any more about whether or not we’d be switching into fantasy.  The story and characters had hooked me deep and as I eagerly turned each page, I began my metamorphosis into a horror fan.

After I finished The Stand I eager hunted down every Stephen King book I could find, and over the years dug into Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Anne Rice, and so on. I even wrote a “horror novel” in high school that was a hellish endeavor to finally finish up, but I made up my mind that I wanted to be a horror writer when I grew up.

That goal was never achieved, but I have written quite a few words about Magic: The Gathering over the years (over two million words in fact, many of them for this here website).  And now I find myself writing about characters from a popular horror franchise that have been enshrined in my favorite hobby game. As a horror fan, I’ve long enjoyed The Walking Dead television series, even though it’s definitely been a bumpy, uneven ride in terms of quality. If you gave up on the show some years back I don’t blame you, though I can say that the recent few seasons have been a return to form.

And since this product has legendary creatures representing characters from a show that I love, and I can use them to build decks for Commander—the Magic format I love the most—I am about as perfect a target audience for this as there can be.

Okay, so let’s get brewing around Michonne, shall we?

1. Zombie Apocalypse

Zombie Apocalypse

When looking for cards for this deck, I wanted to keep an eye out for cards that felt like they could have been ripped right from the show, and nothing exemplifies this as much as Zombie Apocalypse. It brings back Zombies from the graveyard and kills all the Humans, which is perfect flavor.  To add to that awesome flavor is the fact that you can make Michonne indestructible until the end of the turn if you attack with Michonne and two Zombies, so she can survive the Zombie Apocalypse… like she does on the show! 

Walking Dead Casualties of War Seasons Past Lurking Predators Plague Wind

There’s also an actual Zombie called Walking Dead, so it slots right in.  Casualties of War reminds me of the various “war” storylines over the years, especially the “All Out War” fight between Rick’s group and Negan’s Saviors. Seasons Past refers to past seasons of the TV show, Lurking Predators reminds me of Zombies lurking around hidden corners, and Plague Wind evokes the virus that spawned the Zombie plague.

2. Open the Graves

Open the Graves

While Michonne brings two Zombies with her when she enters the battlefield (named “Walker” tokens), you don’t want to rely on them surviving for as long as Michonne does.  So, I decided to look for Zombie cards and other ways to make Zombies. Open the Graves popped out as a great card for this purpose and is especially flavorful if Zombie Apocalypse kills my own Human creatures and then I get Zombie tokens for each of them that died. 

Relentless Dead Plaguebearer Fleshbag Marauder Silversmote Ghoul Raving Dead Army of the Damned

Now Zombies are a tribe that’s seen a ton of support from Wizards of the Coast (WotC) over the years, but one thing I wanted to do with this deck was to make the Zombies as close to the mindless Walkers that we see on the show. So, I didn’t load up with “Lords” or Wizard Zombies or Zombies that looked like intelligent undead. All of these Zombie cards feel like they can be put in the mindless, hungry undead category. 

Fleshbag Marauder in particular evokes that horrific Zombie that Glenn had a close call with in the well at Hershel’s Farm.

3. Endless Ranks of the Dead

Endless Ranks of the Dead

I also wanted to play up the Zombie themes with some cards that cared about Zombies, and one of the best ones that is dripping with The Walking Dead flavor is Endless Ranks of the Dead.  The artwork depicts a scene that could come right out of the show, and since Michonne brings two Zombies with her, even if you don’t have any other Zombies those two would be enough to get a trigger from this enchantment.

Gravecrawler Graf Harvest Diregraf Colossus Vengeful Dead

I’ve included some Zombies that have nice Zombie synergy, and I love that Graf Harvest gives Zombies menace which plays into the sense of horror and dread people have when facing down Zombies alone.

4. Sword of War and Peace

Sword of War and Peace

Of course, one of the controversial parts of the Michonne card is the “color pie break” of giving her an ability that keys off Equipment. Clearly from a flavor perspective it makes total sense, and since this is a top-down design that isn’t at all overpowered, it seems fine by me. One of the best tools Michonne has to help her survive in the zombie apocalypse is her mastery with swords and other bladed weapons, so I wanted to have enough of them in the deck to ensure there’d be at least one or two lying around for Michonne to wield.

No-Dachi seems like the best fit in terms of actual form of the sword Michonne prefers, but I like the flavor of Sword of War and Peace. In the course of the show Michonne uses her sword during times of war, and even “hangs it up” for a bit during peaceful interludes. I also like that the card provides protection from red and from white, which are two of the colors in the Negan card’s Mardu color identity.

O-Naginata Trusty Machete Blackblade Reforged Hero's Blade No-Dachi Swiftfoot Boots Haunted Cloak Sword of Light and Shadow

Outside of the various blades – including Rick’s Trusty Machete! – I also thought she should have a few pieces of Equipment representing other gear she’d have: boots and a cloak.

5. Bloodsoaked Champion

Bloodsoaked Champion

In the world of The Walking Dead, there are Humans and there are Zombies, so I decided to stick to that paradigm in the creature cards I chose for this deck. When choosing Human creatures, I wanted to find ones that seemed like they’d fit into this world, and one that nails it is Bloodsoaked Champion.  Quite a few of our heroes over the seasons have faced impossible odds and been thought dead, only to be found later to still be alive but covered in blood due to the epic struggle.

In a way, I look at Bloodsoaked Champion as Michonne’s Rick, always finding a way to come back to her no matter the cost.

Chevill, Bane of Monsters Species Specialist Ghoulcaller Gisa Massacre Girl

Here are some other humans that feel at home in The Walking Dead universe. Massacre Girl in particular made me think of Carol and how she freed her friends from their captors in Terminus during Season 5. 

Ghoulcaller Gisa is a bit of a stretch—she’s a Wizard (necromancer) but her ability evoked for me Alpha from The Whisperers, sacrificing people to make Zombies.

6. Tireless Tracker

Tireless Tracker

I wanted to find room for card draw in the deck, and one of the best that feels on theme is Tireless Tracker, the name of which and the mechanic evoke to me the character of Daryl even if the art clearly does not.

Barren Moor Castle Locthwain Desert of the Glorified Desert of the Indomitable Tranquil Thicket Cryptbreaker Skullclamp Undead Augur Grim Haruspex Guardian Project

I was happy to find some Zombie-specific ways to draw cards as well as another Human in Grim Haruspex. A haruspex was an ancient Roman religious official, so very loosely he could be Father Gabriel.

7. Go for the Throat

Go for the Throat

Creature removal is important in any Commander deck, and one of the best is Go for the Throat. While the art depicts a Vampire, the name evokes a particularly horrific scene in the show revolving around Rick Grimes.  Yowza!

Here are some other ways to control your opponents’ creatures that we’d find in a lot of Golgari decks:

Assassin's Trophy Damnation Hagra Mauling Deadly Rollick Windgrace's Judgment

8. Nature’s Claim & Return to Nature (tie)

Nature's Claim Return to Nature

We’ll also want ways to kill other permanents, and for flavor’s sake I really like Nature’s Claim and Return to Nature since they represent the decay of civilization as it falls to the relentless march of nature.

Here are some other great removal spells:

Golgari Charm Krosan Grip Barrier Breach Force of Vigor

9. Heroic Intervention

Heroic Intervention

We’ll want ways to interact with our opponent, and one of the best cards is Heroic Intervention, which can prevent your opponents from getting rid of one or more of your more valuable cards on the battlefield. I also love the name here, evoking beloved characters in The Walking Dead risking their lives to save their loved ones.

Here are some other great ways to interact with your opponents:

Field of Ruin Tectonic Edge Endless Sands Scavenger Grounds Shadowspear Soul-Guide Lantern Agent of Erebos

10. Blighted Woodland

Blighted Woodland

Last but not least we have mana ramp, none of which really plays into the themes of the deck other than the fact that I avoided some of the creatures I’d typically add to a Golgari deck here that aren’t Humans or Zombies. I love Blighted Woodland since it’s a way to ramp to five mana while ensuring you have at least one Forest and one Swamp you can use to cast Michonne.

And here are the rest of the ramp cards:

Myriad Landscape Phyrexian Tower Castle Garenbrig Sol Ring Rampant Growth Farseek Nature's Lore Cultivate Kodama's Reach

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Michonne, Ruthless Survivor
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 10-03-2020

Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:

I’ve leaned a little heavier on green mana sources compared to the deck’s color balance, but that’s to accommodate the green mana ramp which can fetch the black mana we’ll need.

What do you think?  If there any cards I’ve overlooked, let me know! 

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do a deckbuilding stream every Monday evening, and pepper in some other Commander-related streams when I can.  If you can join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

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