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Commander Deck Tech: Sol’Kanar the Swamp King

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Welcome! Today I’m going to talk about my monoblack Grixis Commander deck, Sol’Kanar the Swamp King. I know you what you’re thinking right now. “Why wouldn’t you just play a monoblack commander if your deck is monoblack?” There are two reasons. First, I tried the few Grixis commanders and decided I didn’t really like them, but I still really wanted a Grixis deck to fill in my shard decks. I have a commander deck for each shard: Phelddagrif for Bant, Sharuum the Hegemon for Esper, and two more that I’ll talk about in future deck tech articles. Secondly, by being mono-black but with a tri-color commander I get access to a few useful spells that I really wanted to play with that I’ll talk about more a little bit later.

This deck is my big mana deck. For those of you familiar with monoblack control (MBC) decks, this is my take on a Commander version of that archetype. For those of you who aren’t, typical MBC decks feature a strong discard and removal suite backed up with powerful win conditions varying from Consume Spirit to Phyrexian Totem and Phyrexian Negator to Hypnotic Specter from way back in the day. This is my deck for when I feel like ignoring the concept of mana limitations.

Notable Moments Playing Sol’Kanar:

Why Sol’Kanar?

Out of the possible choices, Sol’Kanar is the most synergistic with a deck full of black spells. One of the things black really likes to do is pay life for spells, especially card drawing spells, which you need a lot of in here. Sol’Kanar provides a great counter for that by giving you life just for doing what you already want to do: casting your spells. For my typical playgroup, I also tend to gain quite a bit of life from everyone else’s spells, since we have one player who almost exclusively plays black decks, along with multiple other people who at least partially black decks quite often.

The second is the often overlooked built-in evasion he has: swampwalk. As I mentioned, a lot of people in my playgroup play black decks. Even if they didn’t, I’m running both Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Blanket of Night to make sure all my lands count as Swamps, which will also make him unblockable by my opponents. While it’s not 7, it’s very typical for you to have at least one way to increase his power available almost all the time so Sol’Kanar is typically a three hit unblockable kill with commander damage.

Focus #1: Mana Ramping

The real key to making the deck work is mana ramping. Unsurprisingly, with no green spells allowed in the deck you have to jump through a few more hoops to get there. Fortunately, Torment gave us one of the best ways to cheat on black mana, Cabal Coffers. This card almost single-handedly makes the MBC archetype work. Without the huge amounts of mana provided by getting almost a 2-for-1 deal on your Swamps, goes from strong to absolutely silly.

Since doubling our mana with Coffers is so strong, why not play all the ways to do it? Magus of the Coffers, Vesuva (to copy Cabal Coffers), Gauntlet of Power, and Caged Sun all make the cut as mana doublers for me. I’m not a huge fan of the one shot effects like Bubbling Muck. Doubling Cube is too inefficient for my taste. Nirkana Revenant goes in as a great threat as well as a mana ramper. Between the tutors and the actual number of doublers we’re running, we can pretty easily find one to make sure we have one on curve.

Speaking of curve, there’s another important part of the mana ramping that often gets overlooked. In this deck, it’s vitally important that we hit [emp]at least[/emp] the first seven land drops, if not the first 10. Since there are very few ways for you to get more lands onto the battlefield, it’s very important to make sure you don’t miss any land drops. One of the best ways to accomplish this without just running a ton of extra lands that will be dead cards fairly often is to include the land cycling creatures. This is another bonus of running a Grixis commander instead of a mono black one – we get access to Jhessian Zombies and Igneous Pouncer to make sure we make our land drops and that we have access to the colors we need to cast Sol’Kanar. I’ve had Shoreline Ranger and Chartooth Cougar in here at various points but they’re currently out because I haven’t had a problem hitting my land drops consistently.

Focus #2: Board Control

In normal multiplayer MBC decks, board control is supplemented with a strong discard suite to deal with things before they can become a problem. Unfortunately, most discard spells aren’t that great in a multiplayer setting because they only trade one-for-one or 2-for-1, which simply isn’t efficient enough in a multiplayer setting. I elected to focus on board control much more heavily, since my meta is very much a creature-beatdown fest. If your group plays a lot of combo, you should remove some of the creature removal for some discard spells. Mind Twist and Mind Shatter are a great place to start.

For your board control selection, it’s important to include several different ways to kill creatures. Being able to kill everything early is important, so Damnation is in. Having a few ways to take out enchantments and artifacts is important in every deck, regardless of color. Thankfully, Wizards gave us both Nevinyraal's Disk and Oblivion Stone to handle them, even in monoblack. All Is Dust can take out the enchantments for us most of the time as well. Next, you want be able to kill indestructible creatures and regenerators regardless of whether your opponents want them to die or not, so cards like Mutilate Bane of the Living are necessary.

Last but not least, a few spot removal spells can make all the difference. Since we’re playing black with lots of mana, there are a few good choices, but the best are either reusable (Slaughter) or drain (Consume Spirit), with forced sacrifices also an option. I personally passed on the opponent sacrifice removal because all too often I’ve really wanted to kill one creature, but my opponent had a random utility dork to protect his threat from a Diabolic Edict-type card. If your meta is less creature heavy than mine, you might prefer those to some of my selections.

Focus #3: Win Conditions

Realistically, your best win conditions are big creatures your opponents can’t deal with easily that also provide you with a bonus secondary effect. Amusingly, this is probably the least important of the focuses. In all reality, if you can control the board you could win with a Squire. Regardless, getting more out of your creatures than just a big beater is pretty much a necessity considering how few you’ll probably have room for in the deck. Nirkana Revenant is a great example as it doubles your mana while pumping itself to be a win condition whenever you’ve got the board under control. All of my creatures were selected because they provided a nice bonus as well as the base effect; nothing’s here just to beat for damage. Nightmare Lash and Lashwrithe both do a fantastic job of making your threats especially scary. I’ve considered Strata Scythe as well, but since I run a fairly large number of non-basics, it just isn’t as frightening.

The secondary win conditions are the X drain spells. Exsanguinate proves that Wizards loves multiplayer MBC and wants it to be happy. Consume Spirit and the golden oldie Drain Life both do a great job of killing creatures, opponents, and anything else you can aim it at with a mana doubler or two on the battlefield.

Secondary Focus: Drawing and Tutoring

While the drawing and tutoring power isn’t a strict focus of the deck, it’s a big part of the power inherent in a heavy black strategy. You really need to be able to find a mana doubler and a win condition. You also need to maintain card advantage when you’re using your board control to keep your opponents from stopping your couple threats. Taking advantage of the ridiculous card advantage engines black has available is a must. Phyrexian Arena is a great example of what you’re looking for in a card. Necropotence (AKA The Skull) should be in as well. Look for effects like this, and run several.

For tutors, you pretty much want every one that’s remotely mana efficient. Demonic Tutor’s in for sure, as is Vampiric Tutor. Praetor's Grasp is a new one I’m experimenting with to see how well it works. The all-star for me is undoubtedly Demonic Collusion. You should always pay for the buyback unless you think you’re going to win that turn or the following turn. It should also be the last tutor you cast if you have multiples. I’ve cast Demonic to go get Consultation multiple times. Late game when you’re drawing multiple cards per turn and hitting a lot of land that you can’t do anything with, it’s easy to dump them to Consultation buyback and effectively get to tutor instead of drawing dead.

Cards for Consideration

I’ve already found room for a bunch of cards from New Phyrexia, but here’s a general list of what I’d like to find room for in here:

Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
I really want a copy of this guy to be in From The Vault: Legends so I have a copy I can run in here. I don’t want him bad enough to buy one on eBay for over $100. If he doesn’t make it in the set this summer I might think about it because he is just that good.

Life's Finale
This one has some serious potential, I just have to decide what to cut. The important part is making sure you aren’t helping your opponent by putting three creatures into their bin. On the other hand, it could be a nice peacemaker offering to find someone a Genesis. Just be sure you can answer the card advantage they’ll get.

Batterskull
I’m seriously considering trying to find a spot for this guy. It’s likely a permanent blocker and it gains life. It really should be in I think, I just have to decide what to cut for it. Most of the other living weapons are nice, but Lashwrithe and this guy are really the ones you want.

Dread Cacodemon
This guy’s definitely going in, possibly as a straight upgrade to Reiver Demon. It’s an utter beating in most cases and considering they won’t have any blockers, I’m not sure losing the flying is relevant. I might end up cutting another spell for it instead, but it’s definitely going in.

Syphon Flesh
I’m a big fan of getting multiple free chump blockers in return for making my opponents sacrifice creatures, I’m just not sure if this is efficient enough for the way I tend to play this deck. With the mass removal I’m already running it’s probably just the right spell for the job in many cases, so I’ll probably give it a test run.

The Deck

And the deck, in its entirety:

Until next time, may you always have your land drops on time.

6 thoughts on “Commander Deck Tech: Sol’Kanar the Swamp King

  1. I enjoyed the article. I recommend Journeyer's Kite to help with always hitting your land drop, possibly over Armillary Sphere. You mention Diabolic Tutor in the article, but it's not in the list: I would prefer that over one of the Transmuters. Also, where is Grixis Panorama? Did you try Scrying Sheets?

  2. Updated the Demonic Collusion reference, thanks guys.

    I like the Journeyer's Kite idea quite a bit. I think that might be going in soon, probably as you suggested over the Armillary Sphere.

    I actually subbed Diabolic Tutor out for Praetor's Grasp in my last update because normally I'm not super excited to see it. The reason I run the transmuters over it right now is because they also provide useful effects. Netherborn Phalanx has done some silly things when people's boards start to get out of control, and Dimir House Guard gives me a sac outlet to avoid getting my stuff stolen, but I'm considering dumping the House Guard for Diabolic Tutor again – we'll see how it does in playtesting.

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