Long time reader, I remember when it was just Sean and his 99 problems. I'm writing to you guys today to see if you could help with my Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper deck. I built it to sacrifice my stuff for fun and profit, but I'm finding it often sits around till I discard a fatty then recur it a few times and barely affect the game.
Here's what we have to work with:
Reaper of the Wilds
Lord of Extinction
Geth, Lord of the Vault
Harvester of Souls
Butcher of Malakir
Lord of the Void
Patron of the Nezumi
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Artisan of Kozilek
Rescue from the Underworld
Rise from the Grave
Go for the Throat
Decree of Pain
In the Web of War
Golgari Rot Farm
Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth
The biggest problems I seem to consistently encounter are mana production and drawing more recursion than things worth recurring.
As far as budget goes please don't use the fact I have revised duals as a base point, I aggressive purged my trade binder and had a bonus from work in order to get them. I'd say $15 per card is the most I'm comfy with. Some favorite cards are:
Charnelhoard Wurm; it's kind of the reason I built this deck, I had a foil one I wanted to play but no Jund deck.
Blood Artist; this tiny guy doesn't look like a problem until I'm gaining 15 or more life after a sweeper.
Grim Discovery; I play Coffers and when people want it gone, I want it back.
Massacre Wurm; token swarms get sad. Also excellent alongside other sweepers.
Some of the more notable underachievers are:
Death's Presence; I never seems to chain one to another like I had envisioned, it is instead sporadically triggering once or twice on a field of two or three creatures if it gets cast at all.
Twilight's Call; it is usually less awesome for me than the Mayael deck sitting to my right.
Hellion Eruption; I seem not to have enough non-tokens in play for this to be impressive.
Phthisis; it's usually suspended and mostly serves to discourage big creatures for a few turns, but still draws me a lot of hate.
I would love to have a deck that has a constantly rotating cast of creatures shifting in and out of the battlefield and graveyard. I hope it can play with the powerhouses but keeps it interesting and non-oppressive and any help you guys can give would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for everything.
Sek'Kuar is quietly one of my favorite Commanders, thanks to my irrational love of most Coldsnap legends. Say what you will for the low quality of the set or the degeneracy of the Ripple mechanic in Limited, all of the Commanders – even Zur – are flavorful and interesting and pique my curiosity. I've been keeping an eye out for a Sek'Kuar list for most of the length of this column, so kudos for you, long-time reader, for making that happen for us all today.
This deck doesn't actually need that much to put it over into the sweet spot, I think – mostly I want to work on the reanimation balance and streamline to focus on your love of Blood Artist that we keep seeing reappear through your card choices. I see that recurring with things like Patron of the Nezumi and Massacre Wurm, and that is the thread I see pulling the game-plan together – so things that are discordant, even if they are good, are going to hone in on what it takes to make that a functional game-plan for you.
You said to keep it cheap, which given my recent pricey suggestions for Cassidy's Prime Speaker deck or Cassidy's price-busting Revised-era Adun Oakenshield rebuild is a reasonable request. I've nailed it down to just under $80, we get a whole lot of fixing for the deck off of a fairly cheap base of cards with just a few expensive power inclusions... and I honored your $15 cap for individual cards, though more by accident than anything else – mostly I took that to mean “I don't actually want a Survival of the Fittest” and moved on.
We'll begin with a little bit of meddling with your manabase, which we alter mostly to address card-flow issues and to bolster your enjoyment of Grim Discovery as a key aspect of your deck. This deck is fairly light on card draw, so you're going to run into issues where you're not as resilient as you might like because of a few empty draw phases in a row prevent you from really being in the game – and one of my preferred ways to work on that is by adding a little bit of cycling to the manabase, so that you have fewer empty draw steps and more real gas when a spell is what you need to draw. You're also missing a key land that lets you get a free spell out of it, essentially an auto-include if you are playing a) green and b) creatures, and that land will work very hard with your complement of bouncelands to let you re-buy some spell-like action turn after turn. (Another cute trick mixes those cycling lands and bouncelands – if you're short mana early and play the cycling land, when you're moving into the midgame and have plenty of resources that bounceland can trade a cycling land back in for a fresh card. Simple, I know, but only if you look for it...)
I don't really like the Tainted lands very much, and the Khalni Garden offers considerably less spell-like effect than what we get instead. Vesuva is less interesting to me now that it can't kill an opposing legendary land, and to me that means it's mostly here for doubling up on Cabal Coffers... which isn't that necessary, you want to protect the one you have but you cap out around the nine-mana mark as far as what you can realistically need in order to play a specific card but don't really get much added utility for a whole pile of mana to the point where you might want two. It's not really helping, and sadly it is also not the best it is at what it does these days – Thespian's Stage has effectively usurped it by being more flexible, even if it never can emulate a Bojuka Bog.
Mosswort Bridge – A full spell out of your land is considerably better than an 0/1 Plant token, especially since your Commander operates off of real creatures only, not token creatures. You should be able to trigger this pretty regularly off of a modest board position, especially if Sek'Kuar is on the board – it doesn't take too many 3/1 tokens to get to ten.
High Market – You like sacrificing things for fun and profit, and this is the cheapest of the land-based additions we can make that proffers this at a reasonable price both mana-wise and for the card. Just tap and it's gone, no mana, no muss, no fuss.
Winding Canyons – You've been here since the beginning, you've read my continuing love affair with this card. You're light on card advantage which means you're going to end up having a limited number of instants and each will be precious – this will add a significantly powerful level of interaction that can supplement the cards you do have by increasing your ability to interact with the game on any given turn considerably, which will help make up for the fact that you won't be drawing into the next instant very quickly after needing one the first time.
Forgotten Cave, Tranquil Thicket, Barren Moor – A little bit of easy card-flow fixing, so you can act like a deck playing fewer lands than you are when you get to the middle portion of the game. We're going to add back in some card drawing as well, but this will help supplement that in a meaningful and noticeable way.
Rocky Tar Pit, Mountain Valley – You can get fetchlands on the pretty cheap if you try to, and each of these will get any of your Revised or Ravnica-era dual lands as you see fit. It doesn't get much better than $0.25 three-color mana fixers that happen to interact positively with other cards you already like. We'll be building these up further in utility too while we're at it...
I usually move over to the artifacts next and give it an entire section, but you have all of three, two of which we're keeping. I am cutting Phyrexian Altar for two reasons: it tends to signal a very serious kind of combo threat to people to see that card or Ashnod's Altar, so casting it will mark you as significantly more dangerous than you actually are... and this isn't actually a resource you need, so converting into it doesn't really advance your game-plan.
In its place, we're adding an Altar of a different flavor: Altar of Dementia. Your graveyard is kind of like a spare hand, after all, so converting sacrificial resources into cards you can now access is significantly better than converting it into 'just' a mana. This can potentially mill someone to death – it's particularly dangerous with your Lord of Extinction – but more importantly it will help make sure you are always on the winning end of your Living Death not just by sacrificing your creatures but also by stocking your graveyard with plenty of friends.
Your spell base matters, and is where I see the most considerable signs of weakness as far as focusing on your overall themes and plans are concerned. You noted Phthisis wasn't really working for you, but more importantly your overall balance of reanimation cards were usually left stranded waiting for a fatty of relevance to put to work and that is something we're going to have to fix – you have a few too many, and ultimately want a few more creatures instead, especially if we can get a few that are worthwhile reanimation targets or just do something nifty when you recur them.
Far Wanderings – By the time you'll consistently have threshold for this, you probably won't need the help anymore. There's a few comparable options you could go for – the Kicker of sacrificing a creature t get a second land, for example, or settling for having to play the lands one at a time through your normal land drops. Ultimately, I decided to go with a creature-based option that is quite strong and skip the spells-that-ramp riddle game entirely.
Warstorm Surge – Things leaving play is your strong suit for triggers, not things coming into play. Yes, this card is solid and has probably been performing adequately – but if we upgrade it to something that is in keeping with your deck's strengths we may see significantly better results.
Hellion Eruption – You flagged this card as weak and I entirely believe you. The balance of things you need to go right for this to be worthwhile is more work than the card is worth, so out it goes.
Syphon Mind – A reasonable but low-efficacy card drawing spell, I used to be in love with it as a disruptive element but lately I don't see the card they discard as doing quite enough. Unless you're regularly taxing your opponent's resources, this might as well just be a Harmonize for all your opponents really care.
Phthisis – Unwieldy and hasn't been working out lately.
Go for the Throat – Solid, I am sure, but we are looking to pare down the one-for-one trades and keep just the best of them so that we can reliably have a piece of unconditional pinpoint removal when the situation demands it... and behind the others, this isn't the best, even if it is quite strong.
Twilight's Call – Under-performing since it doesn't clear the threats that are in play, just gives everyone everything in both key zones to work with.
Rise from the Grave, Rescue from the Underworld, Dread Return, Vigor Mortis – I am just not sold on the idea that a single spell recurring one creature one time is what you're hoping and dreaming for. I'm pretty sure you like your Oversold Cemetery more than any of these, so we're going to keep looking for things like that or like Geth, Lord of the Vault that are reanimation stations rather than single-use reanimation spells.
Nature's Spiral – A limited-selection Regrowth isn't really fitting the deck, so it's just kind of a good-stuff selection that is not actually good enough stuff to compete. If the card we want to buy back is Living Death, and it may often be that it is, picking a recursion spell that can't do that doesn't really help us here.
Demonic Tutor – A little bit of tutoring can go a long way, especially with interesting cards like Crypt Incursion and Death's Presence that will be especially good in some games and less relevant in others – if you can more reliably find them in their good matchups, it's easier to justify playing them overall even though they can potentially under-perform for you. I'm not going to stick a pile of them in here, but the first one added should be the cheapest one – the second one I suggest is the one with flashback, then if we still want more after that things get interesting depending on what you're playing in your deck. I wanted to add Liliana Vess as a second tutor option since the Living Death-like ultimate is very awesome for you, but you're not really building to defend a planeswalker well so we're going to skip that.
Rise of the Dark Realms - ...After all, we can skip the Planeswalker and go right to the spell. Sure, it costs a boatload of mana, but this is the Twilight's Call that will absolutely positively favor you more than that Mayael player, because it lets you bludgeon them to death with their own stuff. Nine is about the maximum peak you can aim to reach for, but it's powerful in that slot if you get there and we can build you up to have an easier time of it.
Who doesn't want to cast this card at least sometimes?
Corpse Dance – A one-stop-shopping kind of reanimation spell, it works at instant speed and has buyback, plus it doesn't actually target thanks to the truly weird Tempest-era templating and thus cannot be countered except by an actual counterspell (“the top creature card in your graveyard” indeed, who writes text like that on cards nowadays?). You won't really notice it's only a temporary reanimation effect when you have a sacrifice outlet to feed the choice creatures to, and because of the weird rules around what “at end of turn” means you can carry creatures over from one turn to the next if you do it right.
Skeletal Scrying, Read the Bones – I wanted some more card draw, and I wanted it to work a bit harder than that Harmonize I said you could've had instead of Syphon Mind. Read the Bones only draws two but it potentially looks at four cards, which I think makes it at least equal to Harmonize (and we're playing the one that saves a mana). Skeletal Scrying can go super-sized indeed, I've cast it more than once for an entirely new hand, and it even interacts positively with Corpse Dance's strange way of picking the creature of interest by letting you selectively strip away the creature cards on top of the one you want. Preferentially altering your graveyard is weird, but when you play it with a card that it matters for it's actually pretty cool to see how complex finding the right play can be - and how satisfying!
Life from the Loam – You noted Grim Discovery as key for buying back Cabal Coffers, Life from the Loam plus any fetchland or cycling land can let you potentially build a strong manabase on the relatively-cheap while also giving a tactical tool for defending key lands like Cabal Coffers from pinpoint land destruction. That's also why I'm glad to add more fetchlands before suggesting Savage Lands, because going to the graveyard while fixing your colors is actually an advantage here. (And if I suggest one more land that comes into play tapped on top of the ones you're already playing, your mana might actually scream at me.) It helps build resources while also potentially unearthing new tools you'll be able to access later, and lets your cards like Altar of Dementia power your manabase and even enable a card-draw spell – Life from the Loam with one cycling land is pretty sweet, but with more than one it gets a little bonkers.
Vicious Shadows – Taking your Blood Artist affair to the next level suggests this as the replacement for Warstorm Surge. It triggers off of everyone's stuff, not just your own, so it's more powerful there to begin with – and it triggers off of hand size, not initial power, so you can get an outsized benefit for small things going to the graveyard against a serial card-draw abuser like, say, Prime Speaker Zegana. No one fears a healthy lot of tokens and a Warstorm Surge, but that same small crop of critters and a Vicious Shadows can outright kill people. Maybe you dislike Vicious Shadows – it's a strongly polarizing card, and one that is no longer an infrequent oddity like it used to be – but unless you outright abhor it, playing it will clearly align your efforts to streamline around a strategy of building up your board and saccing it for damage in considerable chunks when multiple cards overlap.
Grim Feast – I do however want to counsel keeping your own life total healthy, not just knocking the opponents' down. This is an under-utilized little oddball that does literally nothing else besides gain you life – meaning already I am disinterested in general concept – but the sheer amount of life it can gain you over a few turns is incredibly large, while three mana plus a life a turn is an incredibly small amount to pay for that investment. It isn't quite in perfect alignment to your streamlined game-plan, since it doesn't trigger off your own things dying, but it does help keep your life plump and comfortable when you're playing a few cards that use life as a resource and are playing a deck that may develop enemies with grudges if your board builds up the right way. And besides, who doesn't love braaaaains?
I left four holes unfilled, and will be adding in a couple of new creatures in those slots instead. I only have three I wanted to cut, and needed a few more additions to round this out to the key players I was most interested in... so the answer of making those cuts in other sections seemed pretty obvious, and getting up into the neighborhood of about thirty creatures or so is where I like to be when building a deck that uses creatures to any considerable degree such as yours does. Our three cuts are easy, since none of them are critical parts of your deck's structure and you'd noted an over-reliance on reanimation effects, so Artisan of Kozilek and Pharika's Mender are both getting cut to re-balance that strong reliance on something dead lying around for them to be good and Mitotic Slime is getting cut because the token-creation trick is not really that relevant to what we're trying to accomplish. If we were starting with a Wurmcoil Engine or the creature somehow came back into play so you'd get a second Sek'Kuar token off of it, I'd be more intrigued, but as it is I'm not convinced that making tokens that then make more tokens is really a compelling argument for the card.
In its stead, I found what was basically the ideal card all-around for your strategy in Puppeteer Clique, which has both the ability to be sacrificed twice to generate a Sek'Kuar token and the ability to bring another fresh body along for the ride, so you can get many fine Graveborn tokens out of the card. I love a Puppeteer Clique to begin with in this format, but it hits all of the sweetest spots in your deck and can provide huge swingy turns thanks to the fact that it doesn't just reanimate, it grants haste. In a world where full graveyards abound with dangerous threats, a card that potentially picks multiple best threats to put into play tapped and attacking immediately is a dangerous card indeed.
For the rest of the additions, I went with these:
Yavimaya Elder – Boring but quite strong, Yavimaya Elder provides a full grip of cards and helps develop your mana without having to invest too heavily in ramping. The sheer quantity of cards provided speaks volumes for the card, and I think it's one of the strongest in the format – certainly a compelling argument has to be made for not including it in your green deck rather than specifically for adding it.
Nezumi Graverobber – Graveyard hate is important, and I like including at least one creature that can do so cheap and early when I build decks and the colors allow. Nezumi Graverobber may not do so as cheaply as Withered Wretch and Scavenging Ooze, but if you will excuse the pun, there is a whole other side of the card when graveyard suppression is not what you need anymore. Being able to flip and become a repeating reanimation effect is quite strong, especially since it can access any players' graveyard – I like using my opponents' stuff even more than I like using my own!
Genesis – Another way to get Oversold Cemetery online, Genesis is hard to kill – you need specifically graveyard hate to stop the reanimation effect, while plenty of mass sweepers will remove an enchantment from play – and an excellent way to take over a slow but grindy game with consistent card advantage. It happens to also sometimes show up for free when you mill yourself with Life from the Loam or Altar of Dementia, giving your deck a self-assembling sort of feel where just playing your game your way will see the right threats show up and then eventually an Eternal Witness for a Living Death effect or some other game-ender.
Kagemaro, First to Suffer – In and of itself, I think of Kagemaro as the most powerful way to really put Corpse Dance and Grim Harvest to work. There are a lot of attack-focused decks out there that can't really make forward progress if you're using Kagemaro every turn, and this can only happen if you add it to your deck. I don't necessarily want to cram your deck full of Wrath effects, but this one is spot-on perfect for the suite of reanimation cards you're already using since it gives you the ability to play defense all by itself when you're otherwise not great at that. And if this seems to be oppressive, well, they can remove a card from a graveyard or counter a spell, if they can't do either of those things that's not really your fault – this recursion is strong but far from unbreakable, Grim Harvest has a clause by which it removes itself from the game written right into it, so if that is starting to be oppressive and All The Game Is About, savvy play can break it up if they try.
Kokusho, the Evening Star – You have a very strong Blood Artist-type theme, and Kokusho is massively in alignment with it. I'm slightly hesitant to add it – Corpse Dance plus Kokusho plus a sac outlet does start to hit that unfortunate level of oppressiveness you want to shy away from – but we haven't added that much tutoring and if this happens it should be infrequently rather than constantly. It's okay to have a best card, and it's okay if that card is Kokusho – if it weren't, the Rules Committee would have kept it banned, or so the logic goes. Unless you have a concern that this is that step over the line as far as power and balance is concerned, Kokusho will be a strong addition in this deck.
Reaper from the Abyss – Morbid is very potent when you can trigger it at-will, and Reaper from the Abyss is a powerful addition to your deck alongside the pinpoint removal and Grave Pact effects. “Something dying” is a condition you should be able to accomplish pretty much every turn cycle without too much effort, and this lets you pick off the table's most important threats turn after turn if your opponents leave it be. A little bit of politicking – pick on the clear front-runner if you want to make two friends, or spread it evenly across three players if the position is near parity – and you'd be surprised how long people will let this stay in play. After all, you can see the trigger coming a mile away if you absolutely have to protect something, so I guess you don't actually have to fear the Reaper.
Putting it all together, we get the following:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Blood Artist
- 1 Butcher of Malakir
- 1 Charnelhoard Wurm
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Falkenrath Noble
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Gleancrawler
- 1 Grave Titan
- 1 Harvester of Souls
- 1 Kessig Cagebreakers
- 1 Lord of Extinction
- 1 Lord of the Void
- 1 Madrush Cyclops
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 1 Nezumi Graverobber
- 1 Puppeteer Clique
- 1 Reaper from the Abyss
- 1 Reaper of the Wilds
- 1 Seedguide Ash
- 1 Sylvan Primordial
- 1 Viridian Zealot
- 1 Vulturous Zombie
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Geth, Lord of the Vault
- 1 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 1 Patron of the Nezumi
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 5 Forest
- 3 Mountain
- 5 Swamp
- 1 Badlands
- 1 Barren Moor
- 1 Bayou
- 1 Blood Crypt
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Cabal Coffers
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Forgotten Cave
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Golgari Rot Farm
- 1 Grim Backwoods
- 1 Gruul Turf
- 1 High Market
- 1 Jund Panorama
- 1 Mosswort Bridge
- 1 Mountain Valley
- 1 Overgrown Tomb
- 1 Rakdos Carnarium
- 1 Rocky Tar Pit
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Tranquil Thicket
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Altar of Dementia
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Dark Prophecy
- 1 Death's Presence
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Grim Feast
- 1 In the Web of War
- 1 Oversold Cemetery
- 1 Parallel Lives
- 1 Perilous Forays
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Vicious Shadows
- 1 Corpse Dance
- 1 Crypt Incursion
- 1 Fresh Meat
- 1 Grim Harvest
- 1 Murder
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Skeletal Scrying
- 1 Terminate
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Explosive Vegetation
- 1 Grim Discovery
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Living Death
- 1 Plague Wind
- 1 Primal Command
- 1 Read the Bones
- 1 Rise of the Dark Realms
As always, for your participation on Dear Azami this week you will be receiving a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com store. We've hit a modest budget but not a minimalist one – I think that $20 coupon is the record low mark for our suggestions to date – I have this marked up as $77.36, with the only card kissing that $15 mark you noted as your personal stopping point for investing in a card being the copy of Kokusho, the Evening Star. I think we've hit a nice balance – we've cut some of the reanimation spells but not the reanimation concept, we've added a lot by streamlining the focus of what payoffs you get for saccing creatures and added more ways to get free resources over the course of a game so you can have a strong position all throughout the game and always maintain relevance when you play. Being stuck with a hand full of dead reanimation spells with nothing to do is the opposite of relevant, and also the opposite of fun – you should have a lot more fun now that it works in a more streamlined way, because your plan of what you wanted to do was already pretty fun.
It also happens to be spectacularly lethal if you pull it off right, and the games where you manage to cast Rise of the Dark Realms should be epic indeed.
Putting it all together, the cards I suggested had the following prices:
|Read the Bones||$0.25|
|Rocky Tar Pit||$0.25|
|Kagemaro, First to Suffer||$1.25|
|Reaper from the Abyss||$1.49|
|Life from the Loam||$2.49|
|Rise of the Dark Realms||$2.99|
|Altar of Dementia||$7.99|
|Kokusho, the Evening Star||$14.99|
I hope you're happy with the multi-layered joy that your Blood Artists and friends will be bringing now that they're casting some serious shadows, and the "reanimation not working right" is remedied by stepping into the darkness entirely instead of waffling around halfheartedly. We'll have a varied cast and more things dying and coming back than in your typical season of The Walking Dead or Lost, which should be enough to hit all the sweet spots and have nice varied games but with an eye on maintaining the general theme and overall power level so we're always keeping up at a competitive level. A powerful but quirky Commander deserves a powerful but quirky deck, and I think we've hit that point here.
-- Sean McKeown
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