Commander Deep Dive: Wilhelt, The Rotcleaver

Midnight Hunt Commander has a new leader for Zombie decks. Bennie Smith explores the possibilities for Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver.

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver, illustrated by Chris Rallis

Magic players the world over were riveted to Twitch and social media last Thursday to see more previews into the upcoming release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and I was right there too, eager to see what sweet new legends there might be for us Commander fans. And the beginning of preview season did not disappoint!  Here are some legends from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt:

Sigarda, Champion of Light Tovolar, Dire Overlord

Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia Gisa, Glorious Resurrector

And we also got to see the two face legends from the two new Midnight Hunt Commander preconstructed decks:

Leinore, Autumn Sovereign Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver

Tovolar brings us the legendary Werewolf creature that we can finally build a Werewolf tribal deck around, though awkwardly its color identity is red and green, and we’ve already seen that Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is bringing us more black Werewolf creatures. But before we can really start digging into what a Tovolar deck might look like, we’ll want to see what other Werewolf and support cards will be available in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.

Sigarda and Leinore suggest that we’re going to have support for Human tribal and the coven mechanic coming in the main set and the Commander precon, so I’m also going to wait to dig into those cards until a little later.

That leaves three new legends that explore a new take on Zombie tokens with the decayed attribute. Decayed means a creature can’t block, and when it attacks, you sacrifice it at the end of combat. So, they’re Zombies that are so messed up as to be not good for much except attacking and sacrificing. Lucky for Zombie fans, that’ll be good enough for all sorts of shenanigans!

Today, let’s dig into Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver! Wilhelt’s abilities makes it a perfect card to lead a Zombie tribal Commander deck, especially since it’s a Zombie too.

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver

The first paragraph is really cool because the ability triggers from any Zombie dying so long as it doesn’t have decayed — that includes regular Zombie tokens!  There are all sorts of effects that create Zombie tokens when creature cards die but not token creatures, so that makes Wilhelt a nice step up.  With Wilhelt you’ll have situations where a Zombie card will die and then you’ll get a Zombie token, and then when the Zombie token dies Wilhelt will make a Zombie token with decayed.

If that was the end of the card it would still be awesome, but then we have an end step trigger that lets you sacrifice a Zombie to draw a card, and if the Zombie you sacrificed doesn’t have decayed, it’ll replace it with another body.

Okay, let’s dig in!

Zombies That Return

Gravecrawler Relentless Dead Narfi, Betrayer King Prized Amalgam Gravespawn Sovereign Rot Hulk Master of Death Ebondeath, Dracolich Lord of the Undead Nim Deathmantle Gisa and Geralf Zombie Apocalypse Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

First I want to look for Zombie cards that come back from the graveyard themselves or some way to bring Zombie cards back from the graveyard. Gravecrawler, Relentless Dead, Narfi, and Ebondeath all inherently are able to come back from the dead, making them excellent targets for Wilhelt’s end-step ability. Prized Amalgam will piggyback off another creature coming back from the graveyard as well.

Rot Hulk and Gravespawn Sovereign together can easily keep an army of undead on your battlefield, but if your battlefield has been swept into your graveyard, there’s always Zombie Apocalypse!

Zombies That Die for Profit

Apprentice Necromancer Silversmote Ghoul Midnight Reaper Vindictive Lich Fleshbag Marauder

I also went looking for Zombie cards that sacrifice for some effect or have a dies trigger so that when they die you get an effect and the decayed Zombie with Wilhelt. Apprentice Necromancer sacrifices at instant speed to bring back something from your graveyard, so in a Zombie deck you’ll bring back a Zombie either as an attacker or blocker, hopefully with some sort of enters-the-battlefield or dies trigger, and then when you sacrifice that Zombie at the end of the turn, Wilhelt will give you two decayed Zombies for your troubles. Midnight Reaper gives you redraws from nontoken creatures dying, and Vindictive Lich has up to three effects that punish your opponents.

Sacrifice Creatures for Profit

Corpse Harvester Grimgrin, Corpse-Born Sidisi, Undead Vizier God-Eternal Bontu Village Rites Plumb the Forbidden Victimize Phyrexian Altar Stronghold Assassin Westvale Abbey

Since we potentially get two bodies for sacrifice with Wilhelt, let’s look for ways to sacrifice creatures for profit. Luckily, we have some sweet Zombies that do just that!  Corpse Harvester lets you sacrifice a creature to search up a Zombie card and a Swamp card into your hand, which is some incredible card advantage if left alone for a couple of turns. Grimgrin, Corpse-Born is a potent battlefield presence when you have lots of sacrificial fodder, quickly growing quite large while destroying the biggest threats on the battlefield.  God-Eternal Bontu is a Zombie threat that’s difficult to deal with permanently and can generate some incredible card advantage with a lot of creatures you can easily sacrifice. I also really like Plumb the Forbidden as a way to cash in a bunch of decayed Zombies that you’d be sacrificing anyway for new cards.

Zombie Tokens for Sacrifice

Diregraf Colossus Josu Vess, Lich Knight Tormod, the Desecrator Lich Lord of Unx Dreadhorde Invasion Army of the Damned Open the Graves Endless Ranks of the Dead Ghoulcaller Gisa Rise from the Tides Rise of the Dread Marn The Scarab God Liliana's Devotee

Another way to really leverage Wilhelt’s ability is to play cards that make a lot of non-decayed Zombie tokens.  How exciting is Open the Graves in a Wilhelt deck?  Whenever a nontoken Zombie dies you’ll get two 2/2 Zombie tokens, including one with decayed, and then when the non-decayed token dies, Wilhelt will give you yet another token Zombie.

Endless Ranks of the Dead is a potent enchantment that can potentially generate a ton of Zombies if you can keep enough Zombies around the battlefield by the time your upkeep rolls around. Wilhelt really helps keep a significant Zombie presence on the battlefield through opponents’ removal spells.

The Scarab God isn’t a Zombie but does some great work in a Zombie tribal deck with that potent upkeep trigger hitting all your opponents with a potentially big life loss while you get to scry. And the exile ability to make a copy of a creature in any graveyard that’s also a Zombie is quite nice too!

Zombie Synergies

Rooftop Storm Wand of Orcus Champion of the Perished Death Baron Diregraf Captain Lord of the Undead Cryptbreaker Undead Warchief Undead Augur Cemetery Reaper Shepherd of Rot Zombie Master Vengeful Dead Undead Alchemist Noxious Ghoul Accursed Horde Liliana's Mastery Unholy Grotto

Zombies have long had support from incredible tribal cards and we’d want a bunch of them in the 99 of our deck. Wand of Orcus is a tasty new piece of Equipment for Zombie decks that makes blocking your shambling horde quite awkward, and if the equipped creature connects with an opponent’s life total, you get to generate even more Zombies.

Champion of the Perished is a shiny new Zombie tribal toy from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt that’s certainly pointed for competitive play, but because Wilhelt is so good at creating extra Zombie tokens, even a late-game Champion can start growing in size quite quickly.

Undead Alchemist got cut from Zombie tribal decks in the past because I’m always a bit cautious about milling cards into my opponent’s graveyard, since graveyards tend to be a good resource for many Commander decks. But generating those extra Zombie tokens gets so much extra mileage out of Wilhelt that I think it’s worth strongly considering here.

Zombie Token Synergies

Gleaming Overseer Vizier of the Scorpion Eternal Skylord

The War of the Spark Zombies that were designed to boost the amass mechanic do incredible work with Wilhelt’s ability to generate so many extra Zombie tokens. Sure, decayed Zombies can’t block, but giving them flying, hexproof, menace, and deathtouch makes them quite effective attackers indeed!

Tribal Synergies

Kindred Discovery Heirloom Blade Haunting Voyage Distant Melody Patriarch's Bidding Kindred Dominance Stoneforge Masterwork Vanquisher's Banner Door of Destinies Herald's Horn Icon of Ancestry Reflections of Littjara Path of Ancestry Cavern of Souls Cryptic Gateway

Commander 2017’s Kindred cycle brought some sweet support cards for tribal decks, and Wilhelt’s color identity brings access to two of the best ones. Kindred Discovery, in particular, will generate a ton of extra cards drawn from all the extra decayed Zombie tokens to the point that you may worry a little bit about decking yourself, but it’s in your opponents’ best interest to find an answer to the enchantment as soon as they can, so just enjoy the infusion of cards while it lasts.

Door of Destinies does awesome work with Wilhelt since his ability gives you some resistance to battlefield sweepers so you can commit actual Zombie cards to the battlefield to charge up the Door.  If your creatures get destroyed, the decayed Zombies you get from Wilhelt will be large and quite scary.

Cryptic Gateway most often sees play in slower, larger tribes but I really like it here since it’ll be so easy to generate extra Zombie tokens and is a great way to put a bunch of Zombies onto the battlefield at instant-speed. In particular, if you need blockers you can tap decayed Zombies to put other Zombie cards onto the battlefield that can block.

Gain Life

Whip of Erebos Shadowspear Basilisk Collar Gray Merchant of Asphodel Exsanguinate Exquisite Blood

Wilhelt decks will need ways to gain life. While Wilhelt can apply a lot of attacking pressure in the face of removal, the decayed drawback of not being able to block can be a real problem when facing down hard-hitting attacks from your opponents. Whip of Erebos seems like a slam dunk since your decayed Zombies will be attacking anyway, and Exquisite Blood can help too if your creatures are dealing damage to your opponents. Gray Merchant of Asphodel can generate a nice life drain depending on your devotion to black, and since it’s a Zombie it benefits from all the tribal stuff and graveyard recursion.

So, what do you think of Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver as a Magic card?  What other sorts of cards do you think would play great in its Commander deck?

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 Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews.

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

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!