The Great Zendikar Rising Deck Suite Update

Sheldon Menery updates his Commander decks with the release of Zendikar Rising. See the debuts, the replacements, and the rebuilds.

Angel of Destiny, illustrated by Ryan Pancoast

55 decks. Nearly 300 cards to choose from. The Great Zendikar Rising Deck Update starts right here, right now.

This exercise gets more difficult each time I do it.  I suspect there will be a time in the not-to-distant future when it’s nearly impossible.  Yes, the decks will get updated, but how many of the ever-growing number will get or need cards.  Some of these decks are ten or more years old and have been slowly mutating the entire time.  Stewing, even. 

Even with some trepidation about 60 or so new legendary creatures hitting the streets in November, I’m happy that Zendikar Rising’s team had the idea of lateral evolution in their heads. There aren’t any cards in the set that seem overpowered, and there aren’t too many that just say jam me in any deck. There are cards that do narrow things well, which is what brewers really want.

That may lead to the diminishment of this project. Sure, the decks will get new cards, but even with building two or three new decks when every set comes out, the number of available slots will continue to dwindle. There have been updates in the past when I’ve found room for more than 30 cards. That I haven’t done so this time doesn’t reflect poorly on the set; it reflects well on the format.

The update doesn’t contain the new cards from Zendikar Rising which will be going into new decks.  We’ll leave those for the later builds.  I’ll tell you in a bit what I’m planning on doing—which commanders from this set have truly piqued my interest.  You might be able to narrow it down by seeing which legendary creatures are getting slots in the existing suite.

Unless it’s significant, I won’t tell you why I’ve removed a particular card, since I don’t need to keep repeating “had to find a slot.” I do have plans for a few of them, but for the most part, it’ll just be saying so long to some old friends.

I’ve also noticed that I’m trending towards tightening up decks a little. I’m not necessarily making them faster with extra mana rocks or creatures, but lowering a few converted mana costs means being more active earlier in games. Even in my relatively slow group of players, which includes the rest of the Commander Rules Committee (RC) in webcam games, not being so loose is good. Of course, I don’t want to follow that to the inevitable conclusion of trimming everything down to Turn 3 kills. I’m still very happy with games that go into double digit turns.


Angel of Destiny

Into: Trostani and Her Angels

For: Solemn Simulacrum

Angel of Destiny is an alternate win condition (or kill condition, I suppose, since it only take out one player) in a deck that likes to gain life but sometimes has trouble finishing.  Of course, it comes with a price—any creature you control will trigger the ability to have the opponent gain that much life.  If they take away the Angel, you’ll have to deal with the fact that you’ve padded their total.  The clear choice is to wait until you’re at the appropriate life total and have a clear line of attack.  It’s still risky, but what’s like without a little excitement?

I imagine you specifically noted the removal of one of the format’s staples, Solemn Simulacrum. Although there are some people saying the card is losing its relevance, I disagree. It’s still a format standard-bearer when it comes to the target demographic. The reason it’s out here is that I’m trying to move all my tribal decks to being as close to the full tribe as possible.

Skyclave Apparition

Into: Lavinia Blinks

I love Skyclave Apparition because it gets rid of something for good. It was either here or in the other blink deck that I have, the Rith Do-Over. In Commander, the relatively small creature is a non-factor when you’re getting rid of pieces that will really wreck your day — whether that’s Aura Shards or Panharmonicon or many of the extremely aggressively-costed newer planeswalkers. The reason nothing is listed as coming out is that the deck has been cannibalized for parts of other decks and needs to be rebuilt (although you can check out the link to see the idea).


Confounding Conundrum

Into: You Did This to Yourself

For: Knowledge Exploitation

I actually debated whether or not to put this one into You Did This to Yourself because I use Acidic Soil as a win condition as well as liking to reflect back big piles of damage at people.  In the end, I think it’s going to limit the number of times I actually have to do so, which is always a nice choice—because sometimes, you just aren’t holding that Comeuppance.

Maddening Cacophony

Into: The Mill-Meoplasm

For: Villainous Wealth

I can’t imagine too many circumstances when I don’t wait to just kick Maddening Cacophony, unless maybe I’m feeling really saucy and will be able to cast Mimeoplasm early. Villainous Wealth is only coming out until we’re back playing in person. Although our own Jeremy Noell still loves it in the webcam games, I usually don’t run it out there for X equal to 60.

Thieving Skydiver

Into: Animar’s Swarm

For: Sword of the Animist

Thieving Skydiver is going to be swingy nearly every time you cast it.  Using Animar, I’m going to be able to make some truly epic plays without spending huge piles of mana.  Obviously, if I see an early Sol Ring I’m grabbing it; otherwise, I might want to wait to get max value.  The fact that you keep control of the artifact when the creature goes away means that you can blink or bounce Thieving Skydiver.  This deck does the latter relatively well with Crystal Shard and a few other cards, so I look forward so doing some sky-thieving.


Drana, the Last Bloodchief

Into: Kresh Into the Red Zone

For: Netherborn Altar

This Kresh deck gets into the red zone.  It also gets creatures into the graveyard.  It also has Flayer of the Hatebound, so things can get deadly pretty quickly.  The trick will be not leaving the defending player with too many good choices.  This almost went into Karador, but I like the aggressiveness of it here in a deck that likes to deal damage in big piles. 

Nighthawk Scavenger

Into: Rakdos Reimagined

For: Vein Drinker

Nighthawk Scavenger is all about value. It’s going to be big enough to hurt when it hits, and having lifelink means buffing back up your life total. I don’t expect it to be as good in Commander as it is in Standard, but that won’t keep me off playing it.

Skyclave Shadowcat

Into: Karador Do-Over

For: Mikaeus, the Lunarch

The deck it about the +1/+1 counters and Karador, Ghost Chieftain loves sacrifice outlets.  I keep thinking that I’ll repurpose the deck into a Nethroi, Apex of Death deck, but suspect that I’m way too fond of the Karador loops to give it up—meaning Nethroi will probably just end up in the deck somehow. 

Soul Shatter

Into: Obzedat, Ghost Killer

For: Parhelion II

Obzedat is as close to a creature control deck as I get, and Soul Shatter is pretty solid creature control that’s not a one-for-one. Generally, it’s going to take out the huge thing attacking you and some stuff from the other two players, who were just sitting there, minding their own business.


Moraug, Fury of Akoum

Into: Rith Soldiers

For: Deathrender (into Clerics?)

I might have better decks to put it in, or might need to work on the land base in this one (adding more fetchlands), but I want to see if I can play Moraug needing only one or two extra attack steps instead of creating huge piles of them. With Rith’s Saprolings and so forth, it could happen relatively easily. The challenge I’d like to take on is building Moraug, generating a bunch of attack steps, but not actually needing to attack until the last one. Maybe something with Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice? Oh, geez: Moraug plus Helm of the Host.

Nahiri's Lithoforming

Into: Karrthus Do-Over

For: Disturbed Burial

I’ve repurposed this as a Korvold, Fae-Cursed King deck. The joke that Karrthus was leading a deck with no Dragons in it got old pretty fast.  The thing about Nahiri’s Lithoforming is its combo with Herald of Leshrac.  It’s not particularly great, but cool when it happens.  I suppose I should also have a Zuran Orb to combo with Herald of Leshrac as well. 

Valakut Exploration

Into: Zombies of Tresserhorn

For: Gem of Becoming

Bottling is good in decks that don’t draw cards well and/or have tight curves.  What really makes sense with Valakut Exploration in a Zombie deck is that they really like being in the graveyard—until, of course, it’s time to come out. 


Ancient Greenwarden

Into: Muldrotha, the Gravetide

For: Moldervine Reclamation

I mean, where else does it go besides a Muldrotha deck? I don’t always like to do the obvious thing, but sometimes you just gotta give in. Ancient Greenwarden combos pretty well with both The Gitrog Monster and Tatyova.

Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

I still haven’t decided what I’m doing with this card.  Am I dusting off my Armageddons to see who is playing Ashaya?  Wondering if I should put Ashaya into a deck with Terra Eternal.  Only time will tell.  Building something with the new Omnath, Locus of Creation is probably the path here.

Inscription of Abundance

Into: Ruric Thar Beasts

For: Hunter’s Insight

In order to put a noncreature card into this deck, you have to mitigate the Ruric Thar penalty. Inscription of Abundance does that perfectly. You’re not going to cast it until you have a big enough creature anyway, and then boom. Even though it’s not a Beast, I might consider playing Nikya of the Old Ways in this deck—although that would violate the idea of making tribal decks completely tribal. Choices are hard.

Oran-Rief Ooze

Into: Zegana and a Dice Bag

For: Garruk’s Horde

We’re not splitting atoms here. Most every creature in the deck has +1/+1 counters on it. It doesn’t have any janky combos; it just gets in there.

Scute Swarm

Into: Chulane Proliferate

For: Solemn Simulacrum

Scute Swarm goes into this deck mostly because it has a fair amount of ability to get extra lands onto the battlefield.  And yes, that’s another Solemn Simulacrum coming out.  Don’t worry, there are more decks to be built.


Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Into: Ruhan Do-Over

For: Rebuilding

The Ruhan Do-Over deck is Soldier-ish, and I want to remake it into Warrior-ish. Not complete tribal, but a strong theme. That way, I can play with this version of Kargan Warleader and Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients as well. A fun way to go might be a Sunforger package, but that could get into some mana. Sword of the Animist is the first Equipment that springs to mind. Too bad none of the creatures that search for Equipment, such as Stoneforge Mystic, Relic Seeker, or Godo, Bandit Warlord, are Warriors.

Kargan Warleader

Into: Ruhan Do-Over

For: Rebuilding

Ruhan doesn’t often need the bump, but the other Warriors likely will. 

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

Into: Ruhan Do-Over

For: Rebuilding

Nahiri makes Warriors to be buffed by Kargan Warleader, and not having to pay to equip is slick if you’re playing Argentum Armor or something else with a huge equip cost.

Nissa of Shadowed Boughs

Into: Karador Do-Over

For: Kirtar’s Wrath

The whole idea of dark Nissa here is to get loops going with Karador and cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder, piling up the number of loyalty counters.  I’ll use the +1 ability mostly to just be some mana acceleration and not turn the lands into creatures.

Yasharn, Implacable Earth

Into: Rith Do-Over

For: Paleoloth

Rith Do-Over has a blink subtheme, so it loves cards like Yasharn, Implacable Earth in order to pull out the lands and make sure you’re drawing gas all the time. Note that unlike Karametra, God of Harvests, Yasharn only gets basic lands. That second ability, though, is fire, and shuts down more than you might suspect.

Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats

Into: Rakdos Reimagined

For: Olivia, Mobilized for War

I was going to put Zagras into the deck anyway, since it’s a relatively cool Vampire, but when I looked, there are quite a few Rogues and Warriors as well.  Funny how things work out. 

Zareth San, the Trickster

Into: Ikra and Kydele

For: Rebuilding with Rogue subtheme

Speaking of Rogues, this deck is getting re-tooled to have them as a sub-theme, just to play Zareth San.  River Kelpie shenanigans will abound.


Forsaken Monument

Into: Karn Evil No. 9

For: Mycosynth Wellspring

While it’s mostly there just to double up mana, Forsaken Monument can also make Karn actually deal damage.  It also makes the artifacts he animates a little more dangerous.  Wins all the way around.

Lithoform Engine

Into: Animar’s Swarm

For: Illusionist’s Stratagem

I believe Lithoform Engine will be the card I have the most fun playing with, and since I have loads of fun with my Animar deck, that was the logical choice.  What to take out became the hardest part, since I love all the permanents in the deck.  Also, the experiences I’ve had so far in EDH Boxing League have led me to think that I want to play Keep Safe here, but finding room will be hard.

Skyclave Relic

Into: You Did This to Yourself

For: Darksteel Ingot

Skyclave Relic is just a strong straight-up replacement for Darksteel Ingot.  Sorry, old friend.

Modal Double-Faced Cards (DFCs)

Glasspool Mimic

Into: Ikra and Kydele

For: Rebuilding

My Rogues will be pretty cool, so Glasspool Mimic is going to want to copy them.

Sea Gate Restoration

Into: Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers

For: Seasons Past

With Psychosis Crawler, Sea Gate Restoration is just going to straight-up kill some folks. The thing will be to not deck myself while I’m trying to do it.

Agadeem's Awakening

Into: Halloween with Karador

For: Decree of Pain

It’ll be a little spendy, but the value is there. I’m still musing over whether or not I want to put back a bounceland like Orzhov Basilica in case I need to play the card as Agadeem, the Undercrypt on an early turn.

Malakir Rebirth

Into: Saskia, Who Does Not Yield

For: Ilharg, the Raze-Boar

This card is simply amazeballs in the format.  I’d definitely pay two life to not have to pay commander tax again.  If someone else has a serious creature that’s about to get dealt with, you can have it for a low, low price.  Imagine putting this onto Isochron Scepter.  Now I have some thinking to do.

Updating the deck suite is time-consuming and sometimes swapping cards in and out is a little tedious. Still, it’s well worth the effort (and helped out some by putting nearly all my decks in the same sleeves). All I have to do when my mind starts to drift is think about the epic games that the new cards are going to create, and the tedium goes away.

Visit my Decklist Database to see my Signature Decks, the Chromatic Project, and more!