So I think we accidentally had an epiphany. A couple of weeks ago in the Gisa and Geralf primer I wrote , I spent a little bit of time waxing poetic about my lost innocence, or more aptly, when I tried to build a Commander deck that wasn't hyper competitive and I failed miserably.
That deck was Tariel, Reckoner of Souls. Back in 2011 when the first in a wave of new EDH product was starting to hit shelves, I saw Tariel and was immediately attracted, but mostly because I misread her text box and assumed she'd let me claim any creature from the opponent's graveyard as opposed to a random one. A thousand dollars later, my inability to read put me in the unenviable position of having a Mardu-based highlander deck that I didn't quite understand. It played some reanimation spells, sweepers, and tried to kill with Flayer of the Hatebound + Living Death, which was almost as much fun as you'd guess it to be, only it's more fun than that. Think swimming in a baby pool filled with unironic corgi puppies--the cute kind, not that meme ones that your aunt shares on Facebook. Sure, Aunt Karen. We get it. Their butts are shaped like little hearts.
It was the first deck I ever won a pod with. Not a normal LGS pod, but instead one of those wacky ones where you pay five dollars at a Grand Prix to watch someone combo you out on turn 3. They swear their deck never does that, but they also get defensive when you ask to cut their library after they shuffle. I sat down with Azusa, Lost but Seeking. Remember, these were the halcyon days of Commander where I could infinitely loop Emrakul, the Aeons Torn with High Market and Eye of Ugin, and nobody had fun. The deck was completely foil and completely Japanese. It was like having Bitcoin before it was worth a ton of money. Two people in the pod seemed very indignant that I was going to play this oppressive General, and they lamented so loudly that I asked…
"Would you like me to play my fun deck instead?"
"Yes," they exclaimed, as one of them pulled out Azami, Lady of Scrolls and I pulled out what was left of my hair.
Putting Tariel in your Command Zone in a competitive pod is like telling the table that you're just there to watch, smile, and make witty comments about whose graveyard you're going to target, assuming you even get to cast her. You'll laugh as you take control of someone's Sakura-Tribe Elder or something ignorant like that. Then they'll kill you in retaliation for your transgression, and you'll pack up and throw out some deuces while struggling to get your oversized backpack on. "Cool," you'll think to yourself as you stare into the blackness of your millennial-induced abyss, "I almost got it off that time." You'll know you're lying to yourself, but whatever, because Commander is supposed to be fun.
Anyhow, the table produced large-scale infighting amongst the better decks, and I sat there and kept playing Wheel effects to "spice" the game up. I'd give the wink and the gun to the guy across from me and say something like "Wow, I see you only have one card in your hand. Why don't I fix that for you?" Boom, draw seven. You're welcome. I wasn't the Monarch. I wasn't even the Court Jester, because that would have been dignified. But my graveyard, much like Positive K's pockets , kept getting phater. I untapped and asked the blue player if he was tapped out, which he was. Excellent. Enjoy this Living Death. Flayer of the Hatebound spun the finest hits and erupted mercilessly on the table, killing all of them. Mardu Guy strikes again. Give me your packs. I am victories.
And that was the only time that ever happened.
Weeks later I decided to throw Tariel in the trashcan, and by garbage I mean a vendor bought her off of me. I felt like that little kid in Old Yeller. I took the Angel behind the toolshed and put her out of her misery. There were tears. She didn't have rabies. I don't even remember what I spent the money on, but it was likely something stupid.
Flash forward almost six years, and I write an article where I mention Tariel as a platform for how I approached Gisa and Geralf and my overall philosophy on Commander going forward, and it got me to thinking that maybe, just maybe, I should bring her back. There have been dozens of upgrades to the archetype since I last built her which leads me to believe she may be more capable of winning games now that there are more tools, a better mana base, and of course- I didn't have you back then to help me.
Being a Mardu commander is a little like playing with fire: you're not battling with all of the cantrips or filter that blue provides, and missing out on green with their ramp and color fixing almost feels…wrong. This means your lands have to be almost perfectly configured or you're done before you've even gotten started. In 2011, we didn't have access to powerful lands like the Temples from Theros, the more easily obtainable fetchlands from Khans of Tarkir, or most innocuous (but important) of all, a tri-land like Nomad Outpost. Rounding things out, we can pick up a utility land that fits the theme of graveyard interaction perfectly in the case of Geier Reach Sanitarium. If we so choose, there are even two fastlands that Kaladesh gave us, like Concealed Courtyard or Inspiring Vantage.
These make it more advantageous to play things like Clifftop Retreat, Dragonskull Summit, and Isolated Chapel. We mentioned the Temples earlier, and I believe they're auto-inclusions. They'll help smooth out draws, prevent flooding, and they are likely the best turn 1 play in the deck outside of Sol Ring. Nomad Outpost is a no-brainer, along with Command Tower. Painlands usually don't make the cut in my three-color Commander decks, since I'm left with better options due to the colors I choose. However, perfect mana is paramount, so that means Caves of Koilos, Sulfurous Springs, and Battlefield Forge are getting sleeved up. These lands are also fantastic for newer players due to their relative cheapness. Shocklands share that same distinction and can be picked up for around $10-13 apiece, and will go a long way in making your deck more competitive...not to mention they're all Modern staples! Having those will increase the power level of your deck a ton.
I'll be playing all seven fetchlands, but these can be switched out for more budget-friendly options. Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, Rocky Tar Pit, or even the Panoramas from Shards of Alara block would make suitable replacements. Myriad Landscape is another amazing fetchland.
There is a school of thought that disregards playing off-color fetchlands, since their uses are somewhat narrower than their on-color counterparts, but since I can't play Farseek on turn 2, this is the world we live in. There is nothing I hate more than not being able to cast my spells in Commander.
In terms of utility lands, I believe Geier Reach Sanitarium is an easy inclusion. One of my all-time favorite lands, Hall of the Bandit Lord, happens to play perfectly with Tariel, allowing you to activate her the turn she enters the battlefield. Cavern of Souls on Angel will give us the chance to resolve our General through countermagic, but also works well with all of the other Angels we'll be packing, so it feels like a must-play. Rounding things out are staples like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Temple of the False God, and Ancient Tomb for faster mana, with Reflecting Pool to act as another tri-land. Some number of basics will be included as well, with a tilt more towards Mountains due to the high density of important red spells we'll be playing.
Speaking of which!
Without a doubt, the part that was holding back Tariel was a lack of powerful spells that worked in concert with one another. The usual suspects: Wrath of God, Life's Finale, Damnation, Swords to Plowshares, or Path to Exile were there, but you can only control a pod for so long before you run out of removal.
But now we have gas.
Red has provided a bevy of spells that play exactly into what Tariel wants to be doing. Years ago I supplemented my graveyard through Wheel of Fortune, but unlike decks such as The Locust God or Nekusar, the Mindrazer, if there were good cards in our hand, Wheel would rot and was often used as a last-ditch attempt to grab initiative back instead of a proactive play.
Now we're talking, baby. This trio fills your graveyard and keeps the cards flowing. Fateful Showdown is also in consideration as a removal spell, but with things like Terminate, Dreadbore, Anguished Unmaking, and even Crackling Doom, we have a ton of ways to take care of creatures for a cheap cost. I've also thought about Utter End, but am not convinced single-targeted removal at four mana is efficient enough. Merciless Eviction from Return to Ravnica block is a welcomed sweeper, that at six mana gives us fantastic customization and an easy replacement for Austere Command.
One of the shining beacons of hope for playing black is the fact that you have access to the best tutors in Magic. Demonic and Vampiric Tutor are must-includes, but Enlightened Tutor to search up Grave Betrayal is too good to pass up. Entomb can set up a powerful turn with one of our creatures that reanimates additional creatures (Karmic Guide, Sepulchral Primordial, Bruna, the Fading Light or Puppeteer Clique), so it gives us immense value. Joining the team is Dark Petition. The Magic Origins tutor saw play during its time in Standard, and now it's finding its way into Commander as another Demonic Tutor.
Rounding things out is the reanimation package, which includes all the platinum hits. Rise of the Dark Realms fits in perfectly with the theme of Tariel, as does the heartwarming Ever After from Shadows over Innistrad. Also, we've included some of the best spells that bring your creatures back: Beacon of Unrest, Unburial Rites, Reanimate, Exhume, Dance of the Dead, and Living Death. All of these make Buried Alive one of the most important cards in the deck. I also like the versatility of Obzedat's Aid, but it may be too much in terms of mana cost.
The Big Boys and Girls
Why else would you play this deck? You can reanimate or cast some of the fiercest big-bigs in all of Magic, and that's what we're doing when we're not stealing them from our opponents' graveyards.
When I first built this deck, the creatures were good…I thought. Turns out in the last six years the creature power creep has gone way up, so now we benefit from being able to play way better minions. Rune-Scarred Demon and Angel of Despair get to stay, as does Solemn Simulacrum and win-condition-on-a-stick Flayer of the Hatebound. Sheoldred, Whispering One is our Praetor of choice given that she lets us steal from the opponent while controlling their battlefield. Puppeteer Clique and Karmic Guide also get the nod.
The newbies, however, take things to a level this deck never could have dreamed of.
Can fill a graveyard or draw you three cards, not to mention outright killing a player.
In a pod this is one of the most dangerous reanimation targets out there. It can easily win a game on its own.
Angel of Despair on steroids.
She is one of the best additions to this deck, given that she can protect us from graveyard hate or remove problematic threats.
In contention to be added. Still not sure.
We can use fetchlands to buy back our nonland permanents, or even better, bring them back by searching up a Plains. I don't know if this card is too weak, but I'm willing to do the research.
Exactly what this deck needed. She attacks. She protects. She kills players when teamed up with the next creature.
Giving all other creatures haste is crazy, but with Living End it can help blow up the entire table.
With all of the Angels we play, Bruna is an easy inclusion and will often bring a really, really big friend with her.
The Role Players
Tariel is lucky that she gets some of the more powerful role players in Commander. Nahiri, the Harbinger and Liliana, Death's Majesty are perfect additions to this archetype. Stranglehold is inarguably one of the best enchantments in Commander, and it gives us a lot of needed game against blue decks. For card draw we get to play old reliable Phyrexian Arena and newcomer Outpost Siege, although the Siege might not be the best card since it exiles.
Two equipment were printed in the last few years that slot in very well to Tariel, namely Swiftfoot Boots and Illusionary Bracers. They pair with Lightning Greaves for three extremely strong ways to power up our General.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, there are the accelerations. Artifact mana is what makes this deck possible. Rakdos, Orzhov, and Boros Signets are in without question, as is Gilded Lotus, Sol Ring, Coalition Relic, Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, and Talisman of Indulgence. Giving this deck a punch in the arm is Commander's Sphere and Chromatic Lantern. If there's room, I'll try to fit a Worn Powerstone as well, but it's probably not needed.
Putting It All Together
This is where you come in!
You've seen all of the suggestions I have for Tariel, Reckoner of Souls, but now I need your help.
Feel free to recommend spells, creatures, artifacts, enchantments, lands…the works, and next week we'll put together a definitive list of my newest Commander deck. Also, be sure to talk about the things you didn't like that I should take out, in case you believe they won't help the deck or are bad, in general.
Be sure to explain your card choices and give me as much feedback as possible. Don't forget, this is Tariel's shot at redemption, and she needs your assistance.
I'm going to go watch my son play with wrapping paper now, and not the toys and presents people spent absurd amounts of money on.
My present to myself this year? A shiny new Tariel deck. Make it possible for me, kiddies.