There was a time in my past when I wanted to build a Commander deck for every two and three color combination that included black. I had a fairly easy time with most of my two color decks and gave up on the project before I dug deep into my three color builds. One guild that gave me trouble was Dimir. Despite having tons of great cards and Commander options, no card spoke to me until Commander 2016. It all started with that damn smile of Silas Renn, Seeker Adept. It had everything I wanted – a low mana cost, an ability that allowed me to eke out incremental value and a massive graveyard theme. I had the deck together for several years before I realized that as much as I liked Silas Renn as a commander, I really was trying to recreate my Glissa, the Traitor deck from another era. And so I took apart Silas Renn and moved most of the pieces to Glissa (a deck that has quickly become one of my favorites). This is how the journey of my Araumi of the Dead Tide Commander deck began.
During this same time I had a Sultai deck. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant was a Zombie tribal deck with a heavy self-mill theme. I love getting rewarded for putting cards into the graveyard and Sidisi did that with elegance and grace. And yet I never actually played Sidisi. The velocity with which she dumped cards into my graveyard meant that every game progressed along a similar trajectory. My desire to include as many zombies as possible meant that my noncreature interaction was at a minimum. I eventually took the deck apart and tried other Zombie decks but none of them did anything different.
That was the next big development in my Commander deck building vision. I was fine having multiple decks that contained the same cards as long as they did things differently. It’s easier in some respects (like with a mono-blue Aura Voltron deck) and harder in others. Playing a focused Commander such as Glissa, the Traitor, gives the deck a clear direction. Others, like Savra, Queen of the Golgari, give me more freedom to do a weird amalgam of things. Going into Commander Legends, I had plenty of decks that snowballed their advantages but only one that went for the “Big Play.” And I’ll admit that when I saw Araumi of the Dead Tide, I wanted to build her but had no idea that she would become a deck that could produce some absolutely absurd sequences.
It started out in a chat with friends. We all saw the immediate value of pairing Araumi with Intruder Alarm and free creatures like Memnite and Ornithopter. With enough mana you could cast your graveyard with ease. This fascinated me for a while but I quickly realized that was not how I wanted to play Magic. Getting Intruder Alarm out would mean that I had achieved my goal and that the game would likely progress along a somewhat scripted plan. Instead, I wanted to focus on creatures with powerful enter-the-battlefield abilities.
Looking at Cloud of Faeries, Peregrine Drake and Priest of Gix, I was reminded of the stupid power of Urza’s Saga block. Once in the graveyard and returned with Araumi, these creatures could generate an abundance of mana. While not a focal point of the final build, the burst of mana provided by these three gave me the opportunity to include some more expensive spells.
The next suite of creatures I hit came from Lorwyn block. Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw are cards that fit all too well. They can get themselves into the graveyard and have a meaningful impact once returned. My original build also had Nevermaker but it found itself on the cutting room floor.
Araumi needs a full coffin. Stitcher’s Supplier seemed like an easy addition and Deranged Assistant found a home as well. Why isn’t Millikin in this deck? Quite simply, I have it in two others and wanted a little variety. Dakmor Salvage, Golgari Thug and Stinkweed Imp do their dredge thing while Extractor Demon gives every creature passing on the opportunity to add more fuel to the fire. Syr Konrad, the Grim is a slow mill option but has the advantage of being the perfect Aristocrat for Araumi. After being beat by a deck chaining Gyruda, Doom of Depths I realized how much fun I could have bringing back three of them at once. Altar of Dementia also helps to add resources to the graveyard and Embalmer’s Tools not only helps you fill the bin but reduces the cost of encore. Araumi also loves when creatures leave the graveyard with Syr Konrad being joined by Desecrated Tomb and Tormod, the Desecrator.
Despite these options, I do feel like the deck could benefit from more ways to get cards out of my hand and into the graveyard. Sickening Dreams is a fun one that doubles as a board wipe and Frantic Search is just good. Cryptbreaker and Tortured Existence are neat with the latter being one of my all-time favorite cards. Ancient Excavation is a nice find for Araumi. Moving forward, I want to see how many threats I can cut to add in cards like Breakthrough, Careful Study and potentially Skirge Familiar.
The haymakers are where things get interesting. While convoluted, it’s possible to set up a turn where you can activate Araumi multiple times. Ideally, once you have a stocked yard, you go to work returning one of your mana generators. Then if you can untap Araumi, you want to get a Gray Merchant of Asphodel to drain out your opponents, a Sepulchral Primordial to turn their dead against them, a Mogis’s Marauder to make all your tokens difficult to block or maybe even an Underworld Hermit to send an army of Squirrels at your adversaries. With all of these enter-the-battlefield abilities, of course there’s a Panharmonicon in the list.
There are things I want to improve in the deck. The early game can be a struggle. Baleful Strix, Dusk Legion Zealot and Watcher for Tomorrow are all solid two-drops that can be brought back for some additional cards later on. Card draw is at a premium in this deck as you’ll often find yourself actively throwing cards into the bin where they can lack utility without your Commander on the board. For a while, I was running Possessed Skaab as a way to get back important instants and sorceries and Emry, Lurker of the Loch as a way to mill and retrieve key artifacts. Both found themselves on the outside looking in for cards more focused on the overall game plan and not redundancies for my redundancy. Perhaps the hardest cut for me was Broodbirth Viper who, thanks to myriad, could generate a whopping nine Snakes if it ever got to attack.
Araumi of the Dead Tide hits a sweet spot for me in Commander. She’s a fun build around that encourages you to look at your resources in a slightly different manner. While her ability can focus your deck in a direction, all it really asks is that you have dead creatures you’d like to bring back for an encore.
Araumi of the Dead Tide Commander by Alex Ullman