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I Got A Fever, And The Only Prescription Is More Yawgmoth

Bennie Smith builds a Commander deck around all-time Magic villain Yawgmoth, Thran Physician! How sick can he make it? His enthusiasm is contagious!

A couple of weeks ago I decided against doing a Commander write-up for Yawgmoth, Thran Physician from Modern Horizons because the presale price was $35, which seemed a little steep. I’m pleased to see that the price has come down quite a bit and you can easily pick one up for under $20. The card is powerful and packs quite a punch, so I think it’s worth picking up, both for various builds’ 99 cards or as the commander for a monoblack deck. I’ll cook up such a list right here, right now!

Yawgmoth packs a ton of value in his abilities.

The two activated abilities are the most powerful and the ones that any Commander deck builder is going to be excited about. But even though protection from Humans feels like a flavor-inspired throwaway, I can see that it will randomly come in very handy here and there. Hello, Rafiq of the Many—you may want to send your attack elsewhere!

The first ability is exciting in part because it’s not bound by mana constraints—if you have the life and the creatures to sacrifice, you can throw around -1/-1 counters and draw cards. Paying life for cards has traditionally been a very strong resource swap, especially in formats where you have higher life totals to start from. Black also has no shortage of ways to keep creatures coming back from dying.

The second ability is a little more situational. Paying two black mana and discarding are both constraining costs, and you’ll need a certain kind of battlefield state in order to benefit from the proliferate. If you want to fill your graveyard for profit, that’s another way to get value from this ability.

Okay, let’s get brewing!

Yawgmoth’s First Ability

The workhorses of the deck are going to be creatures like Bloodsoaked Champion and Reassembling Skeleton, letting you sacrifice creatures with abandon to Yawgmoth and getting them back later. Creatures with undying are also decent since you can sacrifice them, they’ll come back with a +1/+1 counter, and then you can use Yawgmoth’s ability to put a -1/-1 counter on it to cancel out the +1/+1 counter. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is particularly amazing in this regard, though in a fun twist the non-Human clause keeps Yawgmoth himself from benefiting. Oh, the humanity!

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder does a ton of heavy lifting, providing a stream of Thrull bodies you can sacrifice to Yawgmoth whenever you cast creature spells, and Yawgmoth can keep the Thrull herd at manageable levels so you don’t lose Endrek.

Black offers a lot of cool synergies with throwing around -1/-1 counters like Necroskitter, Blowfly Infestation, and Nest of Scarabs.

I like Font of Agonies a lot, but I think it’s questionable in a deck where the commander doesn’t make you pay life. Yawgmoth to the rescue! I imagine I’ll also be including other black cards that will have you pay life along the way to bolster the synergy.

I also like how easy it is to satisfy morbid abilities, so I expect great things from Skirsdag High Priest making loads of Demons!

Yawgmoth’s Second Ability

Putting -1/-1 counters on individual creatures isn’t usually going to do all that much in Commander, so that’s where Yawgmoth’s proliferate ability comes in to help. But why stop there? We can sprinkle in all sorts of cards that can appreciate additional counters.

Planeswalkers are a potent resource we’d love to increase loyalty on, so I’ve included an Ugin and two Liliana planeswalkers. Blast Zone is another nice inclusion we’d like to sometimes increase the counters on. Transmogrifying Wand does a nice job of destroying creatures that might otherwise be problematic for a black deck, and your proliferate can keep the artifact fully charged throughout the game. Jar of Eyeballs benefits from both of Yawgmoth’s activated abilities.

Archfiend of Ifnir seems absolutely bonkers in this deck—each time you discard a card to activate Yawgmoth’s proliferate ability, Archfiend helpfully puts -1/-1 counters on all creatures your opponents control.

Yawgmoth’s first activated ability can keep your hand flush with cards for the second ability, but I added Memory Jar as a way to temporarily refuel your hand. Phyrexian Reclamation costs life and mana, but it can bring a creature card to your hand to pitch to Yawgmoth’s last ability in a pinch. If an opponent has lost life, you can use Gutterbones in a similar fashion.

Lifegain

Even though we start the game at 40 life, Yawgmoth’s first activated ability can whittle you down lower in life than you’re comfortable with really quickly, so I want to include some ways to recover. Zulaport Cutthroat and Blood Artist seem like slam-dunk inclusions since we’re sacrificing creatures, and they can also occasionally take down opponents if they’re at low enough life. Gray Merchant of Asphodel can provide a huge rush of life and hopefully we’ll be able to replay it here and there.

Sun Droplet is fun card that can help offset incidental damage, and with proliferate you can sometimes come out ahead on the life you lost from damage.

Aetherflux Reservoir might be an interesting way to gain some life, since I imagine there will be turns spent casting a cheap creature, sacrificing it, drawing a card, casting a creature or spell, and recouping some life here and there.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

I don’t play Yawgmoth’s Will much in Commander, since the card is usually better if you can get a rush of mana from cards like Dark Ritual and I don’t see that spell as all that great in the format. However, I think it would be a downright shame not to include such a signature Yawgmoth spell in his deck, especially since Yawgmoth’s Bargain is banned. To make up for a lack of Rituals, I’ve included Phyrexian Tower, Priest of Gix, and Blood Vassal as a way to generate some temporary mana, and I’ve got some zero-mana artifacts that can be sacrificed for value and then recast from the graveyard with Yawgmoth’s Will.

Mana Ramp

I don’t include too many early mana ramp options here since I’m not really interested in accelerating Yawgmoth onto the battlefield too early—I’d rather spend my early turns putting out creatures I can sacrifice to Yawgmoth later. Scuttlemutt makes a good exception in a monoblack deck because sometimes opponents have permanents you can’t otherwise do things to because of its color, and it provides good defense against protection from black from something like Sword of Feast and Famine.

Removal

Black gives us a lot of good removal options, and even though Yawgmoth himself will be able to take down smaller creatures here and there, it helps to have more. Since War of the Spark I’ve been seeing an uptick in planeswalkers making their way into Commander decks, so I think The Elderspell deserves a spot in any black deck list, especially if you have a planeswalker yourself that can get the extra benefit. I also want to play Vampire Hexmage, who makes a fantastic planeswalker assassin!

After three days of playing nonstop Commander at SCG CON Summer, I observed that way too many people lean really hard on using their graveyard as a resource, and way too many people play way too few cards to neutralize graveyard recursion—including me! Bojuka Bog isn’t enough, so I’ve made room for Nihil Spellbomb, Scavenger Grounds, Withered Wretch and Agent of Erebos.

Eastern Paladin and Western Paladin aren’t cards that hit my radar much outside of the occasional Zombie tribal build, but the Yawgmoth flavor text caught my attention and I decided to add them to the mix. Enough multicolor commanders are played that each one’s ability is bound to be relevant even if we don’t have Scuttlemutt. Checking EDHREC, Eastern Paladin can destroy a third of the top commanders uploaded in the past month, and Western Paladin can destroy over half of them. Worst-case scenario, it can chump block and then be sacrificed to Yawgmoth—potentially taking out something bigger thanks to the -1/-1 counter.

Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering is another signature spell that would just be wrong not to include, even though I don’t have an abundance of legendary creatures or planeswalkers. I’ll just cross my fingers it’ll be castable when the time is right.

Other Stuff

Since I’m already playing Vampire Hexmage, Dark Depths seems like a snap-include. I’ll add Thespian’s Stage for some redundancy, or later in the game it can be good to copy Cabal Coffers for huge mana boosts. Blackblade Reforged allows Yawgmoth to get in some potential commander damage wins. God-Eternal Bontu can trade in creatures for cards without the life loss and is a sticky threat that can keep coming back more quickly with Yawgmoth’s card drawing power, and can also easily pick up Blackblade Reforged.

Krav, the Unredeemed is an absurdly powerful card in any deck with sacrificial fodder to draw cards, and is another great way to gain some life.

It’s probably a crime not to include Sensei’s Divining Top in this deck, which combos with Bolas’s Citadel to essentially get a Yawgmoth’s Bargain for the flavor win, but that just seems way too cheesy for me to put in here. Bolas’s Citadel is good enough that I want to just include it for value and the occasional ten damage to opponents’ life totals.

Sweet deck! But wait, there are too many cards. I’ll start by looking at our mana curve:

CMC

Number of Cards

0-1

13

2

17

3

15

4

10 + commander

5

9

6

6

7+ / X

1

72 total cards plus 38 mana-producing lands equals ten cards too many, so we need to make some cuts! Let’s see what we can trim, starting with the top of our curve.

Thinking through lines of play with Yawgmoth doing plenty of stuff has scared me off Bolas’s Citadel. I have enough lifegain to offset Yawgmoth, but to make good use of the Citadel I need a lot more lifegain. Skirge Familiar made my list when I thought I’d have a lot more cards with madness in the deck, and at this point all I have is Big Game Hunter, so I don’t think Skirge Familiar is all that necessary. Pitiless Plunderer is a tough cut to make; if the Paladins don’t end up carrying their weight in most games, I’ll be quick to swap Plunderer back in.

Geralf’s Messenger is fine and all, but I really don’t like its drawback of entering the battlefield tapped. I feel this will make it tough to block all the times I’m going to need it to, so I’m cutting it and keeping Butcher Ghoul instead. Blood Vassal and Priest of Gix will look decent enough if I draw Yawgmoth’s Will, but I’m not playing any tutor cards, so the chances are relatively low in any given game to warrant keeping too many cards around for a “what if.”

Priest of Forgotten Gods was picked initially as a backup to Yawgmoth since it does similar things. But I figure that Yawgmoth would get rid of any potential rivals in a spectacularly gruesome manner, so I’m cutting the Priest for their own good.

Since I’m cutting the cards that are mostly just good to power up Yawgmoth’s Will and I like every other card in the deck for being proactive, I’ll cut these zero-mana artifacts to trim the deck down to 100 cards.

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


What do you think? Are there any cards I’ve overlooked? If you see any new cards from War of the Spark or Modern Horizons that should find a home here, let me know!

Oh, by the way, I got a token card included in the current series of Star City Games Personality Tokens, available through the end of June!

I am thrilled and honored to get my mug immortalized on this awesome Matrix-inspired token card. Go check out this link to find out how you can get your hands on some!

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I’ve been writing about the Commander format and Magic: The Gathering in general for nearly two decades. Visit the Star City Games article archives for tons of content dating back to January 2000!

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