I tend to focus my Commander Top 10 deckbuilding articles on cool legendary creatures that are printed in the latest Magic expansion and have been fortunate that each Magic set has had a lot of great legendary creatures in recent years. I’ve dug pretty deeply into the new commanders available for Theros Beyond Death, and since Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths previews begin April 2nd this week seemed like a good chance to do a throwback to an old-school commander, and one of the coolest I could think of is Sol’kanar the Swamp King!
I began playing Magic: the Gathering in early 1994, and the first Magic product I bought off the shelves was a starter deck and some booster packs of Unlimited, and a couple of booster packs of Arabian Nights. 1994 was a wild time to get into Magic because the expansion sets were coming out fast and furious—Antiquities came out in March, Legends came out in June, and The Dark came out in August. At this point Magic’s popularity was exploding way beyond expectations so demand for the product vastly outstripped supply. I remember Antiquities being very tough to find, and Legends even more so. I believe I managed to snag maybe five to six packs total of Legends, and given the size of the set and lack of a cohesive Magic community – Scrye Magazine wasn’t regularly available for a while, and I didn’t discover Usenet until a few years later – I was constantly running across cards that I’d never seen before.
A friend of mine convinced his roommate to learn to play Magic, she snagged a few packs of Legends, and when we all sat down to play and she cast Sol’kanar the Swamp King my mind was blown. The card just looked so cool and scary with that Richard Kane Ferguson artwork that evokes old pulp fantasy stories like Conan or Elric, and since green was my favorite color, the Grixis color combination meant that she’d have lots of ways to kill or counterspell my big monsters.
Over the next year I tried to trade for a copy of Sol’kanar but was unsuccessful, and eventually I got a copy in Chronicles. However, the card just didn’t have the same scary feel in white border and I rarely played the card. Flash forward to 2006, when Time Spiral included a bunch of time-shifted cards including Sol’kanar the Swamp King. I loved how the artwork was darkened and sharpened, combined with being black-bordered, it looked fierce! Plus, over time the card picked up a creature type – Demon! For years, I’ve been this close to building a Commander deck around it but was always distracted by other shiny things. Today I finally bring Sol’kanar the Swamp King to Commander!
So, what sort of deck is worthy of a Swamp King? A deck with lots of Swamps, of course! There’s a problem though—Sol’kanar isn’t mono-black, it’s Grixis. Which makes things a little awkward since we want to be able to actually cast Sol’kanar. I think we can probably make the mana work, though. Of course, the Swamp King also has swampwalk, so he’s going to appreciate opponents also having Swamps, so we’ll look out for cards that can help facilitate that.
Another thing the Swamp King appreciates is a player casting black spells, which means we’ll want a high volume of black spells in the deck. This is pushing me towards making a “mono-black” Sol’kanar deck, where the only spell that has colors other than black is Sol’kanar itself. I think this adds to the cool factor, though it will cut us off from interaction that blue and red would normally give us.
One last thing—since Sol’kanar is a Demon, I’ll keep an eye out for any cool Demon synergies too.
Okay, let’s get cooking!
1. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Okay, first order of business is getting our Swamp on for the Swamp King, and the best card for doing that is Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Lands are the most difficult to interact with, so this is the best of all our options. Since it makes all lands Swamps in addition to their other land types, it means that Sol’kanar is unblockable thanks to its swampwalk ability.
Blanket of Night does the same thing as Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth but since it’s an enchantment it’s a little more vulnerable to interaction, but I like having the redundancy. Nightcreep is an instant speed way to give everyone Swamps, but there’s an interesting twist here: until the end of turn, all lands become Swamps. This effect overwrites all lands’ land types, so lands will lose their normal abilities and just tap for one black mana. You could cast this during someone’s upkeep and shut them out of their colors for the rest of their turn if they’re not a mono-black deck.
2. Dread Presence
Since we’re playing a bunch of Swamps it makes sense that we’ll want to have a bunch of cards that care about Swamps, and one of the best of the bunch is Dread Presence. It lets you draw cards any time a Swamp enters the battlefield under your control, and if you need to deal two points of damage to any target and gain a little bit of life you can do that instead. It’s not as splashy as other cards that care about Swamps, but I really like the value grind.
Expedition Map is in here to get Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth if you don’t already have a way to make all your lands Swamps, but if you do, then the next order of business is Cabal Coffers for a huge infusion of mana.
I really love Crypt Ghast here since this deck has the potential of generating way more mana than you need, so being able to use a black mana to use the extort ability is going to be nice. Plus, gaining a life from spells is what the Swamp King loves doing.
3. Painter’s Servant
Speaking of Sol’kanar’s triggered ability to gain life whenever a black spell is cast, let’s ensure that every spell cast by anyone is a black spell—welcome to the deck, Painter’s Servant! I know this card is expensive, but if you have a copy or can trade for one it will definitely be worth it.
I love that Demon’s Horn mimics Sol’kanar’s triggered ability, and since Sol’kanar is a Demon, I guess it gets that ability from its horn?
Akroma’s Memorial gives all your creatures a bunch of helpful abilities, but in this case it’s the protection from black that’s going to be super-useful, especially if Painter’s Servant is on the battlefield. Just keep in mind that Painter’s Servant will make any Equipment we have black, and our creatures having protection from that black means we cannot equip it. A little bit of non-synergy that I think is worth it on sheer flavor alone.
4. Blood Speaker
Since our commander is a Demon, Blood Speaker makes a pretty good creature that will keep coming back from the graveyard, and if it survives to our upkeep then we can sacrifice it to search up a Demon from our library. I think we can find some good Demons in our deck to give Sol’kanar some in-tribe company, so it doesn’t get too lonely in the Swamps.
Liliana’s Contract lets us cash in some of the lifegain from Sol’kanar to draw four fresh cards, and then has an alternate win condition that we can work towards over the course of the game. It’s pretty easy to include a fair number of good Demons to the deck to make that a possibility, especially if Blood Speaker is searching them up!
5. Chromatic Lantern
Chromatic Lantern gets the nod over all the other mana ramp spells we’re including because it does a really nice and easy job of fixing our mana to cast Sol’kanar without messing with our Swamps. Plus, assuming you have a fourth land, it lets you cast Sol’kanar on Turn 4.
I’ve got many of the usual suspects here, and with Wayfarer’s Bauble and Solemn Simulacrum I’m going to include one copy of Island and Mountain in case we need them. Jet Medallion is nifty in conjunction with Painter’s Servant, letting you cast artifacts for one mana less.
Scuttlemutt does heavy lifting here, tapping for any color of mana, but also can tap to make any creature black if that’s relevant to a line of play.
I’ve been wanting to put Necropotence in a deck since I played against a guy at MagicFest Richmond who used Necropotence to clear a card from the top of his deck he couldn’t or didn’t want to cast with Bolas’s Citadel. Plus, Sol’kanar is going to ensure a steady supply of extra life which we can then cash in for more cards.
7. Blackblade Reforged
Since we’ve got a good chance of forcing everyone to have Swamps to enable Sol’kanar’s swampwalk ability, I’d like some ways to enhance Sol’kanar’s power in addition to the “Swamp matters” equipment we’ve already covered. Blackblade Reforged is going to do a lot of great work equipped to our evasive commander.
Shadowspear provides a way to gain even more life in addition to trample, with a nice piece of interaction attached by being able to remove indestructible and hexproof from our opponents’ creatures. And Nim Deathmantle is a fantastic use of extra mana to bring your creatures that die back from the graveyard.
8. Ghoulcaller Gisa
I want to include some generally good cards for a black deck, and Ghoulcaller Gisa is one of my favorite choices. I really like how well she works alongside a card like Lashwrithe: sacrifice the equipped creature to get a number of 2/2 Zombie tokens equal to the creature’s power plus the number of Swamps you control. You can then equip one of the Zombies with Lashwrithe and make even more Zombies. While Lashwrithe let’s us make one huge creature, I love that Gisa lets us turn that into a horde of smaller creatures in case that’s what we need instead.
Speaking of a horde of token creatures, that’s a perfect use for transforming Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl, Profane Prince—who just so happens to be another Demon! And a mighty one at that.
Custodi Lich makes an appearance because a Swamp King surely wants to draw extra cards for being the Monarch.
9. Oblivion Stone
Since we’re going “mono-black” for flavor reasons and limiting our ability to interact with our opponents, Oblivion Stone is a great way to reset a battlefield that has grown cluttered and problematic. With plenty of mana available we can easily cast and activate the Stone on the same turn.
Black has lots of ways to kill creatures so I’m including a lot of them here. Sword of Sinew and Steel provides a way to destroy artifacts and planeswalkers, and the protection from black is also quite handy if we’ve drawn a way to make all of our opponents’ creatures black.
10. Sudden Spoiling
Sudden Spoiling is always a fantastic way to surprise opponents who otherwise think they have a commanding battlefield presence; large creatures become small and anything evasive can be easily blocked. It’s especially useful here to remove a creature that might have protection from black which would otherwise be quite problematic.
We’ll want to include some other cards that interact with opponent’s plans:
Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Withered Wretch
- 1 Blood Speaker
- 1 Filth
- 1 Magus of the Coffers
- 1 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
- 1 Painter's Servant
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Nirkana Revenant
- 1 Rune-Scarred Demon
- 1 Bloodgift Demon
- 1 Crypt Ghast
- 1 Ghoulcaller Gisa
- 1 Custodi Lich
- 1 Demonlord Belzenlok
- 1 Diamond Mare
- 1 Doom Whisperer
- 1 Dread Presence
- 1 K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth
- 1 Nightmare Shepherd
- 1 Jet Medallion
- 1 Necropotence
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Mountain
- 1 Island
- 1 Blanket of Night
- 1 Mutilate
- 1 Sword of Light and Shadow
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Wayfarer's Bauble
- 1 Demon's Horn
- 1 Nightmare Lash
- 1 Black Market
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Darkest Hour
- 1 Nightcreep
- 1 Prismatic Lens
- 1 Sudden Spoiling
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Akroma's Memorial
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Nihil Spellbomb
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Go for the Throat
- 1 Lashwrithe
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Staff of the Death Magus
- 1 Toxic Deluge
- 1 Malicious Affliction
- 1 Revel in Riches
- 1 Treasure Map
- 1 Blackblade Reforged
- 1 Liliana's Contract
- 1 Bolas's Citadel
- 1 Sword of Sinew and Steel
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Shadowspear
What do you think? Are there any other cards you think should be found in a black-spell-loving Swamp King?
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