Have you ever had that moment when everything just comes together? All of the various ideas and tools you've been thinking about just pop into place in a moment of clarity. Has that happened to you recently?
So I came up with this idea for a shadow deck based on a random throw-away line I tossed in an article a short while ago about the value of some older shadow-based cards like Dauthi Embrace. Then around a month ago I was exploring ways to expand the saboteur sub-theme that runs throughout the color blue in my Commander Cube, and I was investigating all of the various cards with the cipher mechanic that can be used on a creature that hits someone for damage.
Combine that saboteur theme with the Embrace comment, and then I had that moment. I just knew.
I had my deck!
The goal of this Commander deck is to do three things:
1) Have a lot of emphasis on shadow creatures specifically and unblockable ones more generally in order to skate past any creature-based defense.
2) Run a variety of creatures that trigger when they deal damage to a player in combat (referred to as saboteurs in this article).
3) Add in a number of Ninjas that can ninjutsu into play after a creature is unable to be blocked to both support the sabotage theme and to work well with our unblockable one.
I also wanted to flesh the deck out with in-flavor cards that used these various concepts. So we have counters, removal, and card drawing that evoke our themes, particularly the shadows and night.
There are a lot of Dimir colored Legends that work within this theme. But there is one that is absolutely ideal.
Think about her. Sure, we have shadow here and there, but this addition of intimidate really pushes the deck to another level.
- 1 Bone Dancer
- 1 Cephalid Constable
- 1 Dauthi Cutthroat
- 1 Dauthi Ghoul
- 1 Dauthi Mindripper
- 1 Dauthi Trapper
- 1 Fiend of the Shadows
- 1 Kukemssa Pirates
- 1 Looter il-Kor
- 1 Lord of the Void
- 1 Mistblade Shinobi
- 1 Necropolis Regent
- 1 Nether Traitor
- 1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 1 Sakashima's Student
- 1 Scion of Darkness
- 1 Scythe Specter
- 1 Shadowmage Infiltrator
- 1 Silent-Blade Oni
- 1 Stronghold Overseer
- 1 Thalakos Deceiver
- 1 Thalakos Dreamsower
- 1 Thalakos Seer
- 1 Throat Slitter
- 1 Ashling, the Extinguisher
- 1 Higure, the Still Wind
- 1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
- 1 Kiku, Night's Flower
- 1 Sun Quan, Lord of Wu
- 1 Thada Adel, Acquisitor
- 1 Vela the Night-Clad
- 1 Dimir Signet
- 1 Mask of Memory
- 1 Mask of Riddles
- 1 Phyrexian Splicer
- 1 Quietus Spike
- 1 Shuriken
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Sword of Light and Shadow
- 1 Whispersilk Cloak
- 1 Coastal Piracy
- 1 Dauthi Embrace
- 1 Intimidation
- 1 Larceny
- 1 Night Dealings
- 1 Aetherspouts
- 1 Devour in Shadow
- 1 Dream Fracture
- 1 Lost in the Mist
- 1 Reach of Shadows
- 1 Shadow of Doubt
- 1 Shadow Rift
- 1 Victim of Night
- 1 Bident of Thassa
- 1 Extract from Darkness
- 1 Hidden Strings
- 1 Last Thoughts
- 1 Night's Whisper
- 1 Stolen Identity
The Reign of the Night-Clad has begun!
Let's begin by looking more deeply into shadow stuff, because if you aren't familiar with it, then you may get a bit outplayed by it.
Creatures with shadow can only be blocked by opposing creatures with shadow, so they slip through all traditional defenses. However, they also can only block a fellow-shadow, they may not block anything else – they are sort of in another world.
So shadow creatures are their own front, so to speak.
That means your large shadow force creates innate inequities because you may not block creatures that are looking your way. That's obviously a problem, right? Right!
That's where cards like Dauthi Embrace come in. If you have a shadow creature on defense, you can invest some black mana to send an attacking creature to the shadow zone and then block away. You can also do the same with Dauthi Trapper, who can simply tap to give a creature shadow without worrying about any pesky things like mana.
This trick also works with things like Maze of Shadows. Just tap to give an attacking creature shadow, and then prevent it baby!
Oh, and don't forget that you can play serious politics with folks. You can make Sarah's creature gain shadow in order to bring down Pauley's life without worrying about his defense. And you can also make your stuff normal shadow to swing past others. Nicely done!
There's also a useful little combo in here:
Dauthi Ghoul – it grows with +1/+1 counters as shadow-infused creatures die. You can spend some mana or tap a Trapper to send a non-shadow creature to the shadow world just before they would die anyway to grow your Ghoul, and if you have it out while your Dauthi Cutthroat is dominating the table, you'll be in good company.
We have a lot of shadow people that have fun abilities already tacked onto them. Thalakos Dreamsower can tap and lock down a creature. Even if you untap it on your turn and keep swinging, you'll prevent that creature from untapping for a round, and thus you'll interfere with others' plans as your deck needs. You'll also see Looter il-Kor or Thalakos Deceiver running around as well.
After the shadow-stuff of the deck hits the battlefield, you can bring things back to your hand by playing a fun Ninja. Since ninjutsu was an ability found in black and blue, and which fits the themes of the deck perfectly, I really delved into it.
All of the creatures that I chose are ones that suit the deck. Take Mistblade Shinobi. It can swing out in a puff of smoke and bounce an opposing creature away while it snipes for a damage.
Want to draw a card? Ninja of the Deep Hours is here to help! You can kill a creature with Throat Slitter, clone something with Sakashima's Student, play a spell for free with Silent-Blade Oni, and we also have stuff like Ink-Eyes and Higure. Note that Higure can also make the Ninja team unblockable for future attacks, thus doubly supporting our theme.
Now that we have Ninjas and shadow, let's look at our saboteurs.
Take Shadowmage Infiltrator, which works on two levels (both on-theme from a flavor and mechanical perspective). It's a perfect example of saboteur. When it smashes face, you draw a card. That's the sort of combat damage to a player trigger that I am looking for.
What else can I grab?
This is a great place to dig into my Underused Hall of Fame and grab some cards that rarely see the light of day.
Now, the idea of a creature extinguishing light or fire fits our Night-Clad deck all nicely. But what really works is the awesome combat-damage trigger that the 4/4 beater provides. Just force someone to sacrifice a creature of your choice (not theirs) when you carve off some damage.
Just like Mistblade Shinobi can bounce something post-damage, we can rock Cephalid Constable to do so as well. The Constable is even better since you can bounce any permanent that your foe may rock rather than just a creature.
We also have some unusual cards from the Wayback Machine that have leapt into our deck. You can find Bone Dancer, an oddly-worded card from Mirage Block, to animate the top creature from that player's graveyard after it goes unblocked. Like similar cards such as Ophidian from this era of Magic, you skip the opportunity to deal damage in order to get that effect, but the creature will almost always be the better long-game play.
In a similar fashion, Kukemssa Pirates plays a useful role. Yes, it skips combat damage, but you get to permanently steal any artifact the defending player has which is something you'd rather do most of the time anyway. And if you want to steal an artifact from their library instead while also doling out some damage, look no further that Thada Adel, Acquisitor.
We are rolling cards like Fiend of the Shadows (again doing double duty as a saboteur and Flavor Fiend) or something interesting such as Scythe Specter. I even dipped into larger creatures that are serious threats. Scion of Darkness can bring back dead stuff while Lord of the Void just breaks the game open.
After I rolled these various Sabotage, by the Beastie Boys, inspired creatures, where did I dip next?
The next place that I looked were cards with a similar theme, but from different angles.
Take equipment. You could run the entire Sword of Blank and Doubleblank cycle in this deck. Now I only tossed in Sword of Light and Shadow (you can figure out why, right? Right?), but all fit the theme beautifully.
In addition to that Sword, let's look at a card like Mask of Memory or Mask of Riddles. Both draw cards, albeit using different methods, when you smash that face. You could easily find space for Rogue's Gloves as well.
But my favorite combat damage trigger from equipment-land is Quietus Spike, which can carve off a lot of life really quickly. Most of the shadow creatures out there are smaller dorks, so tossing a Spike on one and then hitting for a 50% Off Sale is a pretty nasty event.
Feel encouraged to toss in cards like Bident of Thassa or Coastal Piracy. I like Necropolis Regent, since you'll grow your creatures as you hit others. Oh, and if you like drawing cards when you hit someone, then Larceny is super fun because you can bring peoples' hands back to a manageable size. In Commander, with so many people often holding onto a grip of goods, Larceny is a perfect fit.
Another Underused Hall of Fame entry is Night Dealings. You put a bunch of counters on it as you deal damage to people, then you can pull off some counters to tutor through your deck, and you can just keep on going. Many people misread Night Dealings at first. When you deal damage, you place that many counters on the thing, not just one. So if you smash face with a 3/2 creature, then you place three counters on the Night Dealings. From there it's an easy matter to begin pulling off counters to tutor for things that will push your deck even further.
I was able to toss in a few cipher cards too! You can play them, and then encode a creature and get the spell to trigger over and over again as you smash face. Remember to cast them prior to combat and then toss it onto a creature you know will go unblocked in order to get two uses out of the spell that turn.
Now I chose to steer clear of unfun Undercity Plague. That's not this deck. But Stolen Identity certainly fits! Make a token that copies either an artifact or a creature, then encode that Identity and swing for a second. Keep on! Joining that token-clone shower, we also have the card drawing fun of Last Thoughts while Mental Vapors will begin the discarding.
Let's take a closer look at Hidden Strings though. This is a real powerhouse. You can use it to tap down two creatures, untap yours after swinging to use them as blockers. But, because you untap permanents, feel free to untap two lands to make two mana, or better yet untap your Sol Ring. Since we rock a few useful tap effects in the deck, you can reuse an effect like Dauthi Trapper or Cutthroat. If you wanted, you could easily find a place for Hands of Binding.
We have all of the bones of the deck assembled. Note that Vela will give the team Intimidate, so only artifact creatures (or blue/black creatures) can potentially block. We also have the shadow-force as well, and we can play with that quite nicely. But I wanted to add in a bit more redundancy. In went Intimidation. That way if Vela is dead and has been played too often to pay for anymore, or has been handled with a Song of the Dryads or Darksteel Mutation, we can still keep on going.
And that's why Sun Quan, Lord of Wu is here too. Just like shadow, horsemanship gets little play at the kitchen table. A card like Sun Quan will just blow right through.
Take a look at the random Phyrexian Splicer. Essentially you move first strike, trample, shadow or flying from one creature to another for the turn. Doing that with shadow has some obvious combat trick benefits. You can pull shadow off something of yours to enable you to block if needed. You can pull shadow off an opposing creature if someone play's their own shadow guy.
But the Splicer does a lot more. Because you can move over trample, flying, or first strike, you can threaten a lot of janky combat states on the battlefield. As long as you have the two mana to use it, you can threaten to pull off one keyword to make your own creature better. Imagine your foe looking at you with some flyers, but knowing you can steal flying from one creature to give to yours. Now you can make one flyer yourself and turn one of their creatures into a ground pound instead, which really plays havoc with the combat math.
Next I included cards that worked with our themes while also giving us additional options.
Black has a ton of flavor-oriented removal – Devour in Shadow, Victim of Night and Reach of Shadows are both different ways to kill things. And like Extract from Darkness, these give options to kill other than Throat Slitter or Ashling.
There aren't a lot of blue counterspells that work with this concept. I ran Dream Fracture and Lost in the Mist, which both seem to fit, and that's it. Other than those two admittedly-weaker counters, we have no ability to counter a spell at all. And that's okay! We don't have to run ten versions of Counterspell in every blue deck.
The last few cards including things like Kiku, Night's Flower and Night's Whisper, along with AEtherspouts to bounce stuff in an emergency in case someone tries to get all alpha strike on you. That will likely happen when someone takes advantage of your shadow horde.
And Shadow of Doubt is a fun card to run as a surprise, and it replaces itself, so don't be afraid to drop it if you need and keep on going.
You could toss in things like Strionic Resonator or othe Ninjas (Okiba-Gang Shinobi), more shadow madness (Dauthi Marauder) and such. Toss in Ratchet Bomb, Blinding Powder or Hypnotic Specter. It could use Time Warp style cards as well. You could find lots of interesting options like Demon of Wailing Agonies or Dimir Cutpurse. Elbrus, the Binding Blade could leap in. Ghastlord of Fugue? Hammer of Ruin? Liliana's Reaver? Master of Predicaments? This deck wades into some seriously deep waters. You could explore horsemanship more (Wei Night Raiders, Sun Ce, Young Conqueror). You could run stuff that is authentically unblockable (Invisible Stalker, Inkfathom Infiltrator).
Deep waters indeed!
So what did you think of my Vela, shadow, Ninja, sabotage deck? What would you toss in? Was there anything that resonated with you?
And get ready. The Reign of the Night-Clad has arrived.