Will preview season ever end? Signs point to “no.” We have Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate coming on June 10, Double Masters 2022 dropping on July 8, Dominaria United showing up this September 9 and Unfinity still unscheduled… but don’t forget the Warhammer 40,000 Universes Beyond collaboration arriving on August 12! We’re getting three Secret Lairs plus four preconstructed decks, and if that wasn’t enough, each precon comes in a normal edition and a fully foiled Collector’s Edition featuring “never-before-seen special surge foil” treatment. My Magic boomer brain can barely handle this product-per-month release schedule. That said, I’ll never miss an opportunity to draft a deck around a wild new Commander, and on May’s Monthly Announcement Day on Weekly MTG just a few days ago, we got a preview of exactly that: meet Abaddon the Despoiler.
I’m not a Warhammer 40,000 expert (or even a novice – I know basically nothing), but from my research on the Warhammer 40,000 Fandom Wiki, Abaddon is a servant of Chaos, which is more of a universal force than a god per se, and the leader of a group of traitorous Space Marines. He’s also a kind-of-clone of a kind-of-clone of the Emperor of Mankind, which, if you ask me, is some Dune-level wackiness. I’m a lot more interested in the mechanics here, though, so let’s get down to deckbuilding business.
Abaddon wants us to get our opponents’ life totals moving down, which is an understandable stance overall. The more we lower them in a single turn, the higher the mana value threshold is for that cascade ability! Hurting all of your opponents and then getting an edge from it seems plenty chaotic to me, as the table will be scrambling to assert themselves against you. I’ve tried my best to stay on theme in this deck, focusing on life loss, cascade goodness and of course, chaos – but in a fun way where we’re not playing cards like Scrambleverse that just bog things down (in my opinion.) After putting in some good thought on this deck over breakfast, I buckled down and built a draft of a list. I tried not to spend too much time optimizing because we are going to get a whole precon built around this card!
When I first thought about Abaddon, I immediately jumped to one of my other favorite cards:
If you’re going to push the table’s life total down a chunk at a time, this incarnation of Neheb is an obvious inclusion. In fact, anything that gives us some extra value when opponents lose life is an appropriate addition! Neheb is particularly sweet because we can use mana to make opponents lose life in our first main phase before using Neheb mana in our second main phase to cast more spells with cascade.
After thinking of Neheb, I threw in three more cards that care about opponents losing life. Instead of mana, Florian provides more cards – we will need both! Theater of Horrors also adds cards to the mix while also providing a very inefficient opponent-pinging ability, and Cryptborn Horror just gets large.
But how are we getting our opponents to lose life? Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to accomplish that.
Four planeswalkers! I love finding homes for cards I’ve never played, making this a great day for Geyadrone Dihada enthusiasts. Angrath’s +1 and ultimate ability both play well with Abaddon. The rest are somewhat self-contained, with Ob Nixilis, the Adversary acting as a great sac outlet for a couple of legendary Dragons coming down the pipeline in a moment.
A fifth planeswalker that doesn’t quite fit the mold of the above, Professor Onyx saves her life-draining capabilities for magecraft triggers.
Dropping these in play gives us a decent board presence, but the real value is finding a way to have them die before casting spells on the same turn. Abaddon’s ability only gives things cascade on our own turn, so sacrificing one of these to make a big Ob Nixilis, the Adversary copy sounds like a great option.
I’m rarely a fan of giving away cards, but in this case, these three cards provide fun way to keep our own hand full while also adding some serious numbers to Abaddon’s cascade threshold. Note that these all trigger in some way on our turn – cards like Spiteful Visions won’t really cut it.
Kroxa focuses less on drawing than discarding, but the life loss aspect is what I really care about.
Twilight Prophet only fills our own hand, but that’s fine with me.
More upkeep triggers! This deck wants to choose Dragons with Palace Siege most of the time, and Subversion is a miniature version of that card that does plenty of work turn after turn.
A few one-shot effects here, with Ribbons acting as our only X-spell. I had a few early in the build but then remembered “oh, right, cascade.” Tyrant’s Choice isn’t just a Pauper burn card, it’s a fun voting card! Maestros Charm is nice and flexible, but sometimes you just need to blast the table and gain some life.
But cards that say “lose life” aren’t the only way to make other players lose life! Of course not. We can go back to the basics and deal some damage… and that’s just what I intend to do.
Yes, another planeswalker enters the fray. I never thought I’d be jamming so many ‘walkers into an “aggressive” deck, but here we are. Chandra walks the line between card draw and wide-angle damage while also providing a little extra utility, though I expect to mostly use the +1.
When I said Neheb was my first thought for this deck, I never told you my second thought: creatures like these. Three of these winners untap themselves for a little extra damage, while Spear Spewer just does its job reliably once per turn. Cascading into one of these won’t be the most impactful right off the bat, but it’ll likely feel good when you untap and get to do even more cascading.
More repeatable table-wide damage, with Shivan Gorge fitting nicely into the mana base while Tectonic Giant swings in for damage or cards, depending on the current need.
Flame Rift may not be flexible, but it sure does make basically any spell work just fine with Abaddon. I don’t think I’ll be putting any 13+ cost cards in this deck. Fiery Confluence has some decent utility with the backup outcome of “blast your opponents with fire.”
I threw in a couple of cards that help us do some more cascading, just to be on theme:
Aurora Phoenix plays really well with Abaddon’s ability, while Flamekin Herald gets extra value every time Abaddon gets cast – I expect other players will want to blow up this commander.
Cascade is all well and good, but we’ll need to make sure we actually have spells to cast. That’s where our draw suite comes in! Ponder and Preordain help set things up early but have the downside of being mediocre cascade outcomes, while Expressive Iteration is great basically anytime. Cruise, Dig and Restoration sit on the opposite end of the mana value spectrum, opening up some sweet possibilities for cascades, while Valakut Awakening hangs out in the middle to totally change up a hand if needed.
I added some recursion to the deck to make sure we can cast some of our favorite cards repeatedly. Of course, only cards cast from hand get the benefit from Abaddon, but that doesn’t mean these high-cost cards aren’t solid regardless. Plus, sometimes you cascade into a card at an inopportune time and want another shot to resolve it for full value, right?
Some ways to defend ourselves would be nice, especially in terms of cool stuff to cascade into. Propaganda seems like the kind of thing that would be happening in a weird space empire, and the rest of these are just solid ways to mess with opposing boards. Rakdos Charm can also play double duty as a way to make players lose life. You may notice none of these cards are counterspells – that’s because they’re rough to cascade into, of course, but also because I want this deck to be thematically offensive rather than reactive. Control isn’t chaotic enough for Abaddon!
A Chaos Space Marine needs some gear, and since we don’t have any of what I assume will be a decent amount of Equipment from these decks available yet, I’ve grabbed a few winners from the Universes Within to protect Abaddon.
Not all of our creatures are great at brawling, so we’ll need to clear things out sometimes. Deadly Tempest adds some extra life loss to the mix, while the others are just everyday wrath effects.
I threw in a couple of high-end haymakers just for fun. Skull Storm doesn’t get enough love, and the 40K universe seems like a grim enough place for it – same for Cruel Ultimatum, frankly!
Yes, we’ll need mana rocks to get things off the ground, though they are sometimes awkward to cascade into. Revising this would probably involve finding ways to minimize these or grab ones that can be cashed in for cards or other effects.
Let’s run down the mana base quickly:
Four tri-lands start things off right, with Xander’s Lounge a welcome addition to Grixis mana bases.
Three cycles of duals – checklands, shocklands and multiplayer duals.
Five fetches help us get what we need, including two that just snag basics.
In addition to the aforementioned Shivan Gorge, we have eight utility lands to support the deck. Castle Vantress plays some fun games with cascade, and the rest are just here to do singular jobs like remove graveyards or blow up nonbasics.
11 basics to round things out doesn’t seem too bad. We could shove more nonbasics in, but it’s honestly not necessary and can be kind of risky in some playgroups. Just one Island? Yep. We really don’t cast a ton of blue spells, do we?
Overall, Abbadon looks like a fun, proactive addition to Commander tables. While I’m not sure I love the Warhammer 40,000 theme so far, I’m glad this commander is mechanically unique and interesting, and I look forward to seeing more designs from this set! Until next time, you know I’ll be trying to parse all the other previews we’ve seen. There’s a ton of Baldur’s Gate stuff I’ve barely looked at!
Abaddon the Despoiler by Eric Levine