Whenever a new set comes out, we Commander fans naturally gravitate towards the new legendary creatures to see what sorts of new decks we might be able to build around them. Some new legendary creatures are obvious home runs (such as Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, which I wrote about here) and a few are obvious duds, but sometimes there are real head-scratchers. In Rivals of Ixalan, I put Tetzimoc, Primal Death in that category. Do not get me wrong, the card is super-cool, and obviously inspired by a fun Unglued card, Infernal Spawn of Evil.
Tetzimoc offers up some interesting considerations for Standard, and if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen an Abzan Dinosaur Standard list I am working on. Most of the card’s power is tied up in its abilities, since a 6/6 deathtouch creature for six is not turning any heads. You have to consider whether you have enough time to toss around prey counters before casting the card and reaping the rewards. If you do, the card advantage could be game-winning. If you do not, you are probably dead.
In Commander, Tetzimoc’s abilities pose a problem if you want to use the card as your Commander, since it will start the game in the command zone rather than your hand. You basically have to cast Tetzimoc from the command zone, get it killed, return it from the graveyard to your hand, and then spend one black mana per target in addition to its casting cost so you get… an overpriced, juiced-up Ravenous Chupacabra. Given that there are plenty of great legendary creatures in black you can use as a Commander, is Tetzimoc worth the trouble? My initial reaction was no, and I moved on to brainstorming the other legendary creatures from Rivals of Ixalan.
But then it occurred to me—rather than use Tetzimoc’s abilities in a proactive way, as a value engine with a lot of setup involved, what if we instead used the prey counters as a political weapon? An opponent has just deployed a big threat to the battlefield and now it is your turn. You reveal Tetzimoc and put a prey counter on the threat. Then you announce, “Hey, don’t attack me with that and I won’t cast Tetzimoc.”
You run some risk, of course—given enough mana, you could simply eliminate the threat right away, but this way you open yourself up to actually provoking an attack instead. But that is where the fun of Commander politics comes in! Hey, I am not even going to cast my Commander, so I am not a threat, so you should attack someone else. You might even force another player to waste a card removing the threat. Meanwhile, you still have Tetzimoc in your hand to use again.
There are many wrinkles here. Do you put prey counters on multiple threats? Do you spread them out over several players or pressure someone’s entire battlefield? If you spread them out, you may accidentally encourage everyone to attack you and possibly eliminate you, which will eliminate the threat of Tetzimoc.
If you decide to put prey counters concentrated on creatures controlled by one player, I would recommend choosing the player to your right. That way, if that player refuses to abide by your political offer and attacks you, you can play Tetzimoc to decimate their battlefield and leave them wide open to attacks from everyone else around the table.
Okay, let us start building our deck!
Step 1: Cast Tetzimoc
Six mana is not all that bad for casting our commander from the command zone the first time or from our hand, but we certainly would not mind speeding up the process. Lucky for us, black has lots of cards that help us with that, like Cabal Coffers and Black Market. There are some great artifacts we can add to the mix, especially Ixalan cards like Thaumatic Compass and Conqueror’s Galleon that transform into lands. Thaumatic Compass is particularly fantastic for our gameplan, since Spires of Orazca functions as a Maze of Ith, which will help encourage a creature with a prey counter not to attack you.
I particularly like Scuttlemutt in black decks, since there are so many great cards in Commander that happen to have or give protection from black (Auriok Champion, Sword of Feast and Famine, Chameleon Colossus). Being able to mess with that can be clutch when you don’t need to tap for mana.
Step 2: Force Your Opponents to Kill Tetzimoc
Okay, so we have cast Tetzimoc from the command zone, and it is just a big ol’ dumb 6/6 deathtouch creature. How do we get it to our hand? Luckily for us, black has lots of ways to get creatures back from the graveyard to your hand, so all we need are some incentives to get your opponents to cooperate in killing Tetzimoc. Or not—I mean, we could just beat them down with commander damage, I suppose.
O-Naginata and Loxodon Warhammer provide trample, which is a delicious combo with Tetzimoc’s deathtouch, since just a single point of damage is considered lethal to a blocking creature and all the leftover damage goes right to our opponent’s face. Dragon Shadow provides evasion and a critical extra point of power, letting Tetzimoc potentially kill in just three hits. Then there is Lashwrithe, which will usually make Tetzimoc gigantic.
Or how about Glistening Oil, delivering six points of poison in the first hit and five points of poison in the second hit for a game-ending one-two punch?
Trust me, your opponents will want to kill Tetzimoc.
Step 3: Get Tetzimoc Back into Your Hand
Okay, so maybe they will not cooperate in killing Tetzimoc, in which case you can use cards like Phyrexian Tower, Vampiric Rites, Gate to Phyrexia, or Ghoulcaller Gisa to off your own Commander. These also provide some protection from cards like Darksteel Mutation that might otherwise foil your plans.
Looking through the Gatherer card database, there is no shortage of Raise Dead cards that bring dead creatures back to your hand, which is exactly where we want Tetzimoc to be! The best of the bunch is Phyrexian Reclamation, though I appreciate the no-mana triggers of Oversold Cemetery and Palace Siege too.
If we had blue in our deck, we could skip the whole die-first-and-then-put-in-hand dance and just bounce Tetzimoc to our hand with a whole host of cards, but we can still make use of a couple of artifacts that can do that for us with Cloudstone Curio and Erratic Portal.
Last but not least, there is Command Beacon, which can put Tetzimoc directly from the command zone to our hand where we want it. I briefly toyed with the idea of adding more cards that could help us reuse Command Beacon (think Crucible of Worlds), but I did not want them to be dead cards if we could not find our Command Beacon or it got exiled along the way.
Step 4: Politics!
Okay, we have Tetzimoc in our hand—now let the fun begin! While pure politics is a blast, that is not to say we cannot put our finger on the scales in our favor if we can. Maze of Ith is a strong way to encourage a creature marked with the prey counter to not attack you. Then there are Winding Canyons and Vedalken Orrery, which can let you flash out Tetzimoc to kill your prey if they turn on you. I really like Quicksilver Amulet, since it lets you put out Tetzimoc at a discounted cost, which lets you spend your extra mana to make more prey counters!
Last but not least is the surprise value of Darkness, a card you may just want to bring up during the game whether you have it in your hand or not.
Once you have the pieces in place, you should be fine on the removal front, but it can take some time for that to happen. It is also possible your opponents may interfere with your plans. In any case, I think it is a good idea to go ahead and make full use of black’s many other removal options. I particularly like Sudden Spoiling here, which can help put prey counters on creatures you might not otherwise be able to target.
The shenanigans we’ve got planned for Tetzimoc don’t require all that many card slots, so we can round out the deck with plenty of good stuff cards to make sure we’ve got plenty of options throughout the various stages of the game. I’m particularly excited to try out Dead Man’s Chest in Commander! That card looks like crazy fun.
It occurred to me that Pack Rat could be quite nice in a deck chock-full of Raise Dead effects to keep your hand flush with cards you can discard to make more copies of Pack Rat. Sometimes, that’s all you need!
Here is the full list including the lands:
- 1 Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Gravedigger
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Undertaker
- 1 Phyrexian Rager
- 1 Big Game Hunter
- 1 Magus of the Coffers
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Vampire Nighthawk
- 1 Cadaver Imp
- 1 Grave Titan
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 1 Entomber Exarch
- 1 Disciple of Bolas
- 1 Pack Rat
- 1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 1 Grim Haruspex
- 1 Ghoulcaller Gisa
- 1 Hangarback Walker
- 1 Custodi Lich
- 1 Gifted Aetherborn
- 1 Hope of Ghirapur
- 1 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Dusk Legion Zealot
- 1 Tomb Robber
- 1 Quicksilver Amulet
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Darkness
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Oversold Cemetery
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Vedalken Orrery
- 1 Dragon Shadow
- 1 Gate to Phyrexia
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Erratic Portal
- 1 Black Market
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 O-Naginata
- 1 Cloudstone Curio
- 1 Sudden Spoiling
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Sign in Blood
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Glistening Oil
- 1 Lashwrithe
- 1 Batterskull
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Malicious Affliction
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Palace Siege
- 1 Vampiric Rites
- 1 Wretched Confluence
- 1 Conqueror's Galleon
- 1 Thaumatic Compass
- 1 Dead Man's Chest
What do you think? How would you go about building this deck differently? Which of the new Elder Dinosaur legendary creatures has you most excited?
For more Commander perspectives on Rivals of Ixalan, make sure to check out Sheldon Menery’s The Really Great Rivals of Ixalan Commander Update. See which of Sheldon’s decks Tetzimoc and other Elder Dinosaurs ended up in. Also make sure to check out Mark Nestico’s deep dive on Elenda, the Dusk Rose. Does a four-mana 1/1 have what it takes to hang with the big bads of Commander? She actually reminds me a little bit of Tetzimoc in that you don’t necessarily want the card to go back to the command zone.
New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
Commander Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):
• Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)
• Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)
• Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)
• Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)
• Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)
• Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)
• Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)
• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)
• Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)
• Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)
• Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)
• Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)
• Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)
• Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)
• Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)
• Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)
• Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)
• Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)
• Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)
• Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)
• Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)
• Karona, False God (God Pack)
• Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)
• Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
• Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
• Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)
• Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)
• Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)
• Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)
• Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)
• Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)
• Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)
• Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
• Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)