When Aether Revolt was fully previewed, like many Commander fans, I looked at the new legendary creatures and started sketching out ideas. Some of those turned into decks and I have shared them here. Some have been percolating on the back burner, like Yahenni, Undying Partisan.
My initial sketch centered on killing all my opponent's creatures to grow Yahenni and then utilizing some of those black “if you only control one creature” enchantments like Homicidal Seclusion. The problem with that plan is that Yahenni likes to have other creatures around to consume and become indestructible. Sure, you can sacrifice all the other creatures to turn on the enchantments, but then Yahenni becomes vulnerable on the next turn, which just wouldn't do.
I did not see that they printed enough good Aetherborn to try for Aetherborn tribal, and while I could go mono-black Vampires, there are certainly better choices for Vampire tribal.
So Yahenni sat in the back of my mind, percolating…
Then a card bubbled up that brought me to attention. An old, old favorite…
If you are newer to the game, you may notice an odd thing about this card other than the old wording “bury." Modern-day cards that create temporary tokens tend to exile them to get rid of them, but Tombstone Stairwell destroys them during each end step. Since Tombstone Stairwell makes tokens for everyone, including all your opponents, during each person's turn, and then destroys them at the end of the turn, that seems ideal for providing Yahenni with tons and tons of +1/+1 counters.
Now we're cooking with gas!
Building the Stairs
Okay, in general I eschew free-styling tutors like Sidisi, Undead Vizier and the original gangster Demonic Tutor, but Tombstone Stairwell is going to be so righteous with Yahenni that I think it is worth doing. I mean, you are not going to want to cast it early because you want to have time for everyone's graveyards to get stocked, but when the time is right, you want to get rocking and rolling. One way to stock the graveyards is going to involve killing all the creatures (we'll get to that in a minute), but I also thought that Altar of Dementia would provide another great option, turning each time one of your own creatures is going to die into future Stairwell fodder. Also, let us not forget we can sacrifice Tombspawn tokens to the Altar during each end step.
Destroy All the Creatures
Black is the color of murder (literally), so there is no shortage of ways to kill all the creatures. Yahenni's activated ability means we can get the morbid side of Tragic Slip and Malicious Affliction on demand. Sudden Spoiling does not necessarily kill your opponent's creatures, but the split second ability is important when it comes to picking off creatures with abilities that make them difficult to destroy.
Massacre Wurm is a sweet one—not only does it kill off any small hordes of creatures your opponents have, but if it's on the battlefield while Tombstone Stairwell is going on, your opponents will be losing life each upkeep as their Tombspawn tokens die.
Now, I don't normally advocate playing Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos because I think the cards quickly lead to battlefield states where your opponents cannot cast any cards or their Commander because they'll just have to sacrifice their creatures, but I'm making an exception here. Not only do they play so perfectly with both sides of Yahenni, but also they provide enchantment-removal cover for our real endgame. I feel confident that if Grave Pact or Dictate of Erebos sticks around, it is probably safe to cast Tombstone Stairwell.
Retribution of the Ancients was something I just thought of as I was writing this column, a sweet way to turn all those extra +1/+1 counters into a way to pick off indestructible creatures if Tragic Slip, Toxic Deluge or Sudden Spoiling isn't handling it.
Okay, so we took care of Yahenni's triggered ability above. Now we want to take care of Yahenni's activated ability. Bloodsoaked Champion, Bloodghast, Reassembling Skeleton, and Nether Traitor keep popping back from the graveyard to offer themselves up as tasty snacks. Phyrexian Reclamation gets back other creatures that might otherwise rest in peace, while Grim Haruspex turns Yahenni snacks into fresh new cards. Animation Module makes food for Yahenni in a roundabout way by triggering off Yahenni's +1/+1 counter trigger.
While I did not go deep into the Vampire theme, I did not steer clear either. I mean, Blade of the Bloodchief gives Yahenni two +1/+1 counters when Yahenni snacks on your own creatures, but when your opponent's creatures die, you basically get triple the +1/+1 counters! Eternal Thirst isn't quite as crazy and is a little more vulnerable to creature removal, but Yahenni makes a sturdy target for an Aura, and the lifelink is welcome. Then there is Blood Tribute – since we can reasonably count on having Yahenni around to tap, we can expect this to produce a huge life swing.
I would be playing those cards even if Yahenni were the only Vampire in the deck, but there are a couple more that are worth a slot. Bloodline Keeper can provide Yahenni snacks if need be, and if you get to transform it, then boosting all your Vampires becomes quite sweet. Vampire Nighthawk is just Vampire Nighthawk, but between Blade of the Bloodchief and some of the power-boosting stuff below, I think it more than earns a spot.
Black has some sweet “Swamps matter” cards, so I decided to take advantage of them here and limit the number of nonbasic lands I would normally cram into a single-color Commander deck. Cabal Coffers is one of the oldest ways to take advantage of this, so I included Expedition Map to help go get it. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth goes along with Cabal Coffers like peas and carrots, so we had to squeeze that in too.
Sidebar on Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth: Did you know you could play Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in decks that do not have black in their color identity? Seems weird, but it is perfectly legal, since there is not any colored mana indicator on the card and no mana symbol! Like fetchlands and so forth! So if you are playing a white deck with Karma, do not forget your Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth!
Okay, so Yahenni can get big from opponents' creatures dying, but why stop there? We can pile on with Lashwrithe and Nightmare Lash to make winning with Commander damage a very real option. However, why should Yahenni get all the fun? Pretty sure you unlock some sort of Dark Arts achievement if you equip a Nightmare with a Nightmare Lash.
Nirkana Revenant enjoys all the extra black mana you might have lying around and even helps you make more of it. And it is a Vampire too!
While Yahenni does a good job of protecting against most removal, there are some other arrows they could be vulnerable to (hello, exile), so having Equipment that provides hexproof or shroud can come in handy. Sometimes Yahenni won't have any snacks around to become indestructible, and for those hungry days, we provide the soothing dulcet sounds of Nim Deathmantle and Cauldron of Souls. Cauldron of Souls is particularly nice because it doesn't need mana to activate, and Yahenni's +1/+1 counter triggers will knock off the -1/-1 counter so you can give Yahenni persist again if need be.
Then there is the group of cleverly named Other Stuff. Crypt of Agadeem and Black Market can provide some additional mana as the game wears on. We can reasonably expect an accumulation of black mana symbols on the battlefield in a mono-black deck, so I have included Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and the insanely silly Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Inspiring Statuary takes advantage of our fair number of non-mana artifacts to provide some virtual colorless mana for our non-artifact spells. Scuttlemutt, Magnifying Glass, and Seer's Lantern provide mana early on and then other uses later when we don't need the mana.
So what are we doing with all this mana? Exsanguinate, of course! Okay, I lied; what we are really doing with all that mana (assuming it is not paying cumulative upkeep on Tombstone Stairwell) is casting Gonti, Lord of Luxury to steal a card from an opponent's deck; sacrificing them to Yahenni; getting them back with Phyrexian Reclamation; and casting Gonti to start the loop again. Then, with all those extra cards from your opponents' deck, you get to choose your own adventure.
Not a bad Plan B, eh?
Okay, so here's how it looks all deck-list-ified:
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Blood Artist
- 1 Bloodghast
- 1 Bloodline Keeper
- 1 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 1 Filth
- 1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 1 Grim Haruspex
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 1 Nether Traitor
- 1 Nightmare
- 1 Nirkana Revenant
- 1 Reassembling Skeleton
- 1 Vampire Nighthawk
- 1 Veilborn Ghoul
- 1 Viscera Seer
- 1 Zombie Trailblazer
- 1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 1 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
- 1 Erebos, God of the Dead
- 1 Altar of Dementia
- 1 Animation Module
- 1 Blade of the Bloodchief
- 1 Cauldron of Souls
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Inspiring Statuary
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Lashwrithe
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Magnifying Glass
- 1 Nightmare Lash
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Seer's Lantern
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Black Market
- 1 Dictate of Erebos
- 1 Eternal Thirst
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Retribution of the Ancients
- 1 Hero's Downfall
- 1 Malicious Affliction
- 1 Sudden Spoiling
- 1 Tendrils of Corruption
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Sword of the Animist
- 1 Whip of Erebos
- 1 Blood Tribute
- 1 Corrupt
- 1 Crux of Fate
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Life's Finale
- 1 Mind Sludge
- 1 Toxic Deluge
- 1 Tombstone Stairwell
What do you think? Are there any choices you have questions on? How would you build it differently? Did I forget anything that would make the deck even sweeter?
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):