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Building a Living Death Commander Deck

One of my earliest Commander decks was what could be loosely called Rakdos Reanimator. It was helmed by Lyzolda, the Blood Witch. The deck did a lot of things I really enjoyed but did them rather poorly. There was a loose sacrifice and recursion theme with cards like Bloodghast and Reassembling Skeleton, but no Grave Pact to capitalize on this interaction. It ran giant monsters like Rune-Scarred Demon but no dedicated acceleration and instead just opted to try and get them back with Animate Dead… and no easy way to bin cards. There were cards like Cauldron Dance but they were not there to enable combos. Rather, all of these cards were based loosely around the idea that I wanted cards to leap out of the graveyard and into play, and I wanted them to hit hard. 

Flayer of the HateboundGrenzo, Dungeon Warden (Timeshifted)

If there is a card that epitomized this zeitgeist, it is Flayer of the Hatebound. It is an expensive card that can bring itself back from the bin and wants you to do the same thing to its dead comrades. Warstorm Surge joined the party eventually but eventually Lyzolda was taken apart. I got my hands on a copy of Grenzo, Dungeon Warden and after multiple revisions, that deck focused on smaller creatures that could be brought back by Grenzo without adding any counters to the Commander. Grenzo took everything that was big about Lyzolda and made it small, and that tradition continued in evolutions to Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle and currently Lurrus of the Dream-Den. But I never stopped trying to scratch the itch left by Flayer.

Sek'Kuar, DeathkeeperSidisi, Brood TyrantGisa and GeralfAraumi of the Dead Tide

In a completely different deck evolution line, I kept trying to find a Zombie tribal deck I enjoyed. Originally I had a Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper Zombie deck that I took apart after looping Gravecrawler through Phyrexian Altar with Purphoros, God of the Forge in play. While this is not something that would prompt me to rebuild a deck today, back then it wasn’t the kind of game I wanted to play nor the kind that felt right for my playgroup. I eventually moved from Jund to Sultai with a Sidisi, Brood Tyrant build that was far more focused on making tokens. As my taste for three-color decks waned, I tried a Dimir build with Gisa and Geralf, but it did not stick. Eventually I built Araumi of the Dead Tide and all the Zombie cards I had collected were collecting dust.

 

 

This never sat right with me as Zombies are my favorite tribe in Magic. This is due in no small part to their propensity to come back from the graveyard, but there is more to it than that. Aside from the overall graveyard synergy, I have long been enamored with the interaction of Noxious Ghoul and Overseer of the Damned. If you have the Ghoul on the battlefield when Overseer resolves, you will kill a creature and make a Zombie… which then might kill another creature (or two) and start a Massacre Girl situation. Almost every Zombie deck I built included this combo and had some ways – like Ever After – to turn Overseer into a zombie itself to keep the death flowing.

Dargo, the ShipwreckerKeskit, the Flesh Sculptor

These two lines converge recently as I was tinkering with a Dargo, the Shipwrecker/Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor deck. I was looking to include a Nim Deathmantle/Ashnod’s Altar chain with Dargo and Warstorm Surge to end games, And that got me thinking about Flayer of the Hatebound. It got me thinking about a stack of Zombie cards, and it got me thinking about a game I lost to Living Death.

Living Death

Living Death is one of those spells that carries a ton of nostalgia for me. It was a huge player in Type 2 when I was actively playing the format for the Junior Super Series and it is the kind of spell that can be both fun and game ending. Considering how many variations of the card they have printed over the years – Twilight’s Call, Patriarch’s Bidding, Haunting Voyage and the very Zombie-specific Zombie Apocalypse – I had found a focus. I was going to build a zombie Living Death deck. 

Initially, I was going to put Lyzolda back in charge but Chainer, Nightmare Adept is just a better fit. It can get creatures into the graveyard all on its own and when things do explode out of the graveyard it lets them crunch in immediately. One of my favorite tricks with this deck is to use Chainer turn after turn with Liliana’s Standard Bearer to draw plenty of cards and churn to more Zombies.

CryptbreakerAltar of DementiaLiliana, Untouched by DeathGoblin Bombardment

There are other ways to get creatures directly into the graveyard. Cryptbreaker can pitch them and make tokens while Altar of Dementia can convert undead bodies into actually dead ones and additional cards in the graveyard. Liliana, Untouched by Death and Liliana, Death’s Majesty helps the cause as well. I’m excited about Gate to the Afterlife, which provides some much needed life gain when things go sideways. In addition to Altar of Dementia, there are other sacrifice outlets including Carrion Feeder, Goblin Bombardment and Pyre of Heroes.

Patriarch's BiddingZombie ApocalypseTwilight's CallBalthor the Defiled

The Living Death package includes the eponymous spell alongside Patriarch’s Bidding, Zombie Apocalypse and Twilight’s Call. All of these can be recurred with Ardent Elementalist and if you have Pitiless Plunderer on the battlefield, it’s possible to loop these spells for a game ending flourish. I also run a copy of Balthor the Defiled, which is another one of those cards that hearkens back to my earliest memories of the format.

In addition to the Noxious GhoulOverseer of the Damned tandem, this deck provides me an opportunity to run another of my favorite expensive “combos” in Deathbringer Thoctar and Death Baron. Even as Commander trends towards cheaper options, the fact that I can simply get all these creatures back with one spell makes it easier for me to justify running cards that I might otherwise shy away from for fear of never getting to get them into play.

There are other cards I am considering for this deck if I can make space. Despite the fact that almost every deck with black can be a Syr Konrad, the Grim deck, this one seems to be a perfect fit. Tormod, the Desecrator loves to watch things leave the bin and leaves Zombies behind as well. Finally, Garna, the Bloodflame is a card I have always tried to make work and might fit here if I could find a way to leverage her ability.

 

Commander
Chainer, Nightmare Adept

1 Anathamancer
1 Anger
1 Archghoul of Thraben
1 Ardent Elementalist
1 Ayara, First of Lochthwain
1 Azra Oddsmaker
1 Balthor, the Defiled
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Cemetery Reaper
1 Cryptbreaker
1 Death Baron
1 Deathbringer Thoctar
1 Fell Stinger
1 Flayer of the Hatebound
1 Graveborn Muse
1 Gravecrawler
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Headless Rider
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Liliana's Standard Bearer
1 Lord of the Undead
1 Mahadi, Emporium Master
1 Mayhem Devil
1 Midnight Reaper
1 Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
1 Murderous Rider
1 Noxious Ghoul
1 Ogre Battledriver
1 Overseer of the Damned
1 Pitiless Plunderer
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
1 Relentless Dead
1 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
1 Undead Augur
1 Undead Warchief
1 Vengeful Dead
1 Vile Entomber
1 Withered Wretch
1 Bone Shards
1 Faithless Looting
1 Feed the Swarm
1 Gamble
1 Kindred Dominance
1 Living Death
1 Patriarch's Bidding
1 Twilight's Call
1 Zombie Apocalypse
1 Wake the Dead
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Tombstone Stairwell
1 Warstorm Surge
1 Altar of Dementia
1 Arcane Signet
1 Cauldron of Souls
1 Gate to the Afterlifer
1 Icon of Ancestry
1 Pyre of Heroes
1 Rakdos Signet
1 Sol Ring
1 Talisman of Indulgence
1 Vanquisher's Banner
1 Liliana, Death's Majesty
1 Liliana, Untouched by Death
1 Blightstep Pathway//Searstep Pathway
1 Blood Crypt
1 Bloodfell Caves
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Canyon Slough
1 Command Tower
1 Dragonskull Summit
1 Haunted Ridge
1 Rakdos Carnarium
1 Rocky Tar Pit
1 Smoldering Marsh
1 Sulfurous Mire
1 Sulfurous Springs
1 Tainted Peak
1 Temple of Malice
1 Tramway Station
1 Unclaimed Territory
1 Unholy Grotto
6 Mountain
14 Swamp
14 Swamp

 

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