I’ve been exploring Verrak, Warped Sengir and it’s proof that there’s always something new and different to do in Commander.
Paying life to activate abilities isn’t a traditional theme, though manipulating your own life total via payments and life gain is certainly something other commanders are already interested in. Let’s take a look at my top eight cards with life-paying activations to pair with Verrak in Commander! As usual, we’ll have a bonus deck list at the end so you have a solid starting point.
8. Marsh Flats
Marsh Flats is here as a stand-in for any and all fetchlands that require a life payment and are applicable for your deck. From slightly off-color fetches to the flexible Prismatic Vista, all of these lands meet Verrak’s criteria – they have activated abilities, the activations require a life payment and the abilities aren’t mana abilities (they also meet the fourth secret criterion: you don’t just have to pay life to activate them. Cards that fail this test don’t need Verrak at all!). You just have to pay one extra point of life and you’ll get to ramp like you’re playing a green deck.
7. Chainer, Dementia Master
Verrak isn’t naturally a reanimator commander, but a focus on value and a color identity including black often lead to some reanimation cards being included. Chainer can reach into any graveyard and bring back creatures as nightmarish companions, with the biggest restriction being the triple-black activation cost. Verrak allows you to bypass that restriction simply by paying three more life to get another creature out of the bin – and again, that’s anyone’s graveyard, not just yours.
6. War Room
I sometimes hesitate to drop this in two-color decks, but War Room lets you spend a little extra life to get an additional card here in a Verrak deck. Two life for a card is a classic “fair” exchange rate from cards like Greed, but adding this effect to your mana base makes the rate a lot more palatable in my opinion. The biggest downside here is that we’re looking at a colorless land, and with cards like Chainer straining our mana requirements, the awkwardness is real.
5. Underworld Connections
The Phyrexian Arena we have at home fails to make it into most of my decks these days, but with Verrak at the helm, you’re paying three mana up front and then one mana per activation for “Pay two life: Draw two cards.” While you’re investing a nonland card up front, I think the long-term rate makes this better than War Room overall. The biggest cost is slotting this into your deck, but the upside with Verrak involved is real.
4. Priest of Fell Rites
Over the course of this creature’s life and subsequent unlife, you can use Verrak and pay six additional life for two additional reanimations. Better yet, though, if Priest of Fell Rites is on its first life, you can use Verrak’s copy ability to bring back the Priest itself and continue the value chain. Find some way to give it haste and you’re off to the races (assuming you have a lot of life to pay, that is.)
3. Strands of Night
Strands of Night is a classic card that has occupied some space in my brain since the days of Weatherlight. Sacrificing a Swamp is a cost you shouldn’t take lightly, but with this deck probably leaning heavier on black mana pips, you should have Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth as well as plenty of Swamps, be they basic or nonbasics, in your list. Copy the ability with Verrak by paying two life and save mana and a Swamp! With all of this focus on reanimation in my top cards, perhaps we are looking at more than just a subtheme – is “co-themes” a possibility here? It certainly gives some strength to the deck when Verrak isn’t on the battlefield.
2. Phyrexian Reclamation
Talk about a card with a strong Commander resume. Unlike many of its fellow early format staples, Phyrexian Reclamation has endured thanks to its low mana cost and extreme usefulness. I’ll admit this card gets to its place on this list largely because of its own strength, but getting a second activation by paying just two life is a pretty good deal – you can save that extra 1B to spend on something that will advance your board state right now instead. Maybe that mana can help you recast one of the creatures you’re returning!
1. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Yawgmoth’s first ability costs a creature plus a measly one life. You can copy the whole ability with Verrak by paying just one more point of life – getting a -1/-1 counter and a card for that rate seems downright incredible. If you’re overflowing with cards or want to set up some reanimation for later, you can use Yawgmoth’s second ability to proliferate those -1/-1 counters (or any other counters you’re deeply invested into) and hurl something into your graveyard. No help from Verrak there, but that’s fine.
Here’s where I’m starting with Verrak – let me know what you think about my Top 8 and how you’d build the deck right here in the comments!
1 Verrak, Warped Sengir 1 Alhammarret's Archive 1 Angel of the Ruins 1 Anguished Unmaking 1 Arcane Signet 1 Archivist of Oghma 1 Archon of Cruelty 1 Arguel's Blood Fast/Temple of Aclazotz 1 Arid Mesa 1 Ashen Rider 1 Astarion, the Decadent 1 Beacon of Immortality 1 Blood Tribute 1 Bloodstained Mire 1 Bloodtracker 1 Bojuka Bog 1 Bolas's Citadel 1 Caves of Koilos 1 Chainer, Dementia Master 1 Children of Korlis 1 Command Tower 1 Crypt Ghast 1 Damn 1 Deadly Rollick 1 Dread Presence 1 Exsanguinate 1 Farewell 1 Flooded Strand 1 Font of Agonies 1 Forsworn Paladin 1 Generous Gift 1 Ghost Quarter 1 Glass-Cast Heart 1 Godless Shrine 1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel 1 Heliod's Intervention 1 High Market 1 Isolated Chapel 1 K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth 1 Karlov of the Ghost Council 1 Kaya's Guile 1 Markov Purifier 1 Marsh Flats 1 Marshland Bloodcaster 1 Mind Stone 1 Night's Whisper 1 Nirkana Revenant 1 Orzhov Signet 1 Path to Exile 1 Phyrexian Reclamation 5 Plains (264) 1 Polluted Delta 1 Priest of Fell Rites 1 Prismatic Vista 1 Pristine Talisman 1 Razaketh, the Foulblooded 1 Read the Bones 1 Revival/Revenge 1 Rhox Faithmender 1 Sengir, the Dark Baron 1 Sepulchral Primordial 1 Sheoldred, the Apocalypse 1 Silent Clearing 1 Sol Ring 1 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord 1 Strands of Night 1 Sun Titan 12 Swamp (270) 1 Swords to Plowshares 1 Tainted Sigil 1 Takenuma, Abandoned Mire 1 Talisman of Hierarchy 1 Tectonic Edge 1 Twilight Prophet 1 Underworld Connections 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth 1 Vault of Champions 1 Verdant Catacombs 1 Vilis, Broker of Blood 1 Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose 1 Vona, Butcher of Magan 1 War Room 1 Well of Lost Dreams 1 Windswept Heath 1 Yawgmoth, Thran Physician