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Innistrad in the Shuffle

Two weeks ago I wrote about how to build Commander decks around a new set’s mechanics, and I mentioned that tribal themes in a block act like extra mechanics. What I didn’t mention is that while most mechanics would be lucky to get one commander who fits the deck well, Tribal decks often have a multitude of options. To really evaluate each one we need to delve a little bit deeper into what makes these decks tick.

Back to the 60’s

The first thing that probably came to mind when I mentioned Tribal Commander decks was the same thing that would come to mind if I mentioned Tribal 60-card decks: the lords. And while [card Balthor the Stout]conventional lords[/card] may be a bit underpowered, some [card Kangee, Aerie Keeper]slight variations[/card] make those decks pretty easy to port over to Commander. If you look at Legacy Merfolk decks or your friend’s “Kitchen Table Elf” deck, you’ll quickly see that their main game plan is to stack up as many bonuses as possible, so starting with one always available is a major boon.

Here the astute reader might notice that their friend’s Elf deck is also full of Wellwishers. [card Elvish Champion]Lords[/card] are generally favored in constructed formats because Tribal decks are pushed into an aggressive role due to their high creature density, but we needn’t limit our commander search that way. Options like Thelon of Havenwood are just a subset of the Legends who encourage you to run more creatures of a given type. Kaalia of the Vast, [card Rhys the Exiled]Rhys[/card], and Anowon, the Ruin Sage similarly get better and better the more Dragons, Elves, and Vampires you pack into your deck.

When building a deck this way you can either pick out a game plan and choose your commander to suit it, or you can pick the commander that looks most fun to you and develop a deck around them, but either way the deck will end up playing a lot more like sixty-card concoction than your average Commander deck. If you love your Tribal decks but have been playing Commander because your friends are, this is probably the route for you.

An Army Without a Purpose

Of course, our wonderful Commander format offers a lot more options than just replicating our sixty-card experiences. While a deck full of four-ofs should have no trouble filling out a roster of even the most sparsely populated tribes, making a hundred-card singleton deck can be more of a challenge. Luckily, some kindly legendary creatures are more than happy to bring you a full complement of some creature type or other along for the ride. Your job then is to make use of them. Take for instance Ghave, Guru of Spores: Ghave doesn’t care that the tokens he makes are Saporlings, but if you include Nemata, Grove Guardian and Thelonite Hermit you’re well on your way to building a Saporling Tribal deck.

Then again, tokens aren’t your only option:

I anticipate that Olivia is going to make some waves in Commander. After all, a red-black Memnarch does sound pretty appealing, and the fact that she’s so much weaker probably just means you won’t get hated out of the game as quickly. Where Memnarch gives you artifacts, Olivia gives you Vampires. How would you like to tap the creatures you steal to use Captivating Vampire in order to keep them permanently, or make a larger army. Oh yeah, they get bigger too. And don’t get me started on Malakir Bloodwitch. Can you say ‘[card Kokusho, the Evening Star]Kokusho[/card]?’ [Editor’s Note: This week’s preview in Serious Fun adds to the mix too!]

BRAAAAAIINS

But sometimes things don’t work out perfectly. Zombies were running well with Lim-Dûl the Necromancer to increase their numbers, but suddenly Innistrad hits and they’re thrust into blue. Lim-Dûl doesn’t do blue. That’s why he built Lim-Dûl’s Vault. Does that mean I’m going to give up on playing this beauty?

Of course not! When life gives you Zombies, kill people.

Magic is a game with a lot of Zombies, but with a commander who doesn’t really care for his subjects we need to look for some mechanical overlap to build a deck around. Grimgrin here wants somebody to sacrifice every turn, so if I were building a deck around him without Zombies on the brain, Bloodghast and Nether Traitor would be easy inclusions. There are a fair number of Zombies who can claw their way back to the surface once you bury them, but the shamblers have a more widespread solution to Grimgrin’s riddle: [card Gravedigger]dig a grave[/card]. Some of the best in the business, Lord of the Undead and Woebearer, can guarantee a fresh corpse every turn which is nice, especially if it gives you something for your effort, but we could do all of that pre-Innistrad. Grimgrin demands that we embrace his blue side.

On Innistrad, blue’s Zombies are Frankenstein’s Monsters requiring corpses to summon. At first glance this cost appears to interact pretty unfavorably with a deck full of recursion, but actually, together they give us a critical mass of cards that want things to be milled. Innistrad is certainly living up to expectations!

In order to find our new friend and find lots of spare limbs to stitch onto him we’ll need some serious Sanity Grinding.

Traumatize
Jace, Memory Adept
Shared Trauma
Lich Lord of Unx
Mesmeric Orb
Whetstone
Dreamborn Muse

With all of these group milling cards, maybe we can deck someone! It’s too bad our Zombies aren’t contributing.

Throw in some other ways to win and a pile of fresh Zombies and you’ve got yourself a deck!

What are You so Happy About?

The Clown (1)
Rise My Minions (14)
Early Risers (9)
Timeshare Graves (4)
Shovelers (8)
Coffin Salesmen (3)
Beethoven is Decomposing (4)
Fund-raising Shamble for Kids without Brains to Eat (9)
Gardeners (2)
Dirt Movers (8)
Cemetery Property (38)

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Magic‘s history shows through here; the deck isn’t exactly chock-full of blue cards, and while Mind Unbound might improve the deck’s win percentage, it’s not what we’re looking to do. Mark Rosewater has been talking a lot about how to make Zombie decks play like Zombies, and here I’m looking to do the same. This deck won’t run away with the game; it has practically no ramp, and the lack of any search effects should stop an especially powerful card from coming up too often. Moreover, this deck will make games a grind, but without ever really becoming the control deck. Eventually the door breaks down and an Army of the Damned bursts through to consume the remains of your party.

The Big Picture

More important than the ways in which this deck mimics Zombie behavior is its representation of a Tribal deck built around a commander who just happens to be part of the club. While Grimgrin has a lot of added utility with all of the deck’s recursion, the rest of the horde won’t suffer too badly without him. The vast majority of the time, building a deck around a tribe will be at odds with building around your commander who doesn’t care about them. That means that this type of deck will be a little bit more difficult to build than your average Commander deck because you’ll have a lot more cards that seem to fit than if you were just building in one direction. So if you enjoy the heartbreaking process of cutting cards from Commander decks, try making a Lady Evangela Cleric deck, or a Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper Shaman deck. Then again, the more straightforward approaches offered by commanders like Ezuri, Renegade Leader and Sensei Golden-Tail are a lot of fun as well for those of you less intent on torturing yourselves.

Tell me about your cool Tribal decks or ideas for the new Innistrad Legends in the comments, by email, or in a tweet. I’m looking forward to seeing what you brew up!

Jules Robins
julesdrobins@gmail.com/Google+
@JulesRobins on twitter

Post categories: Free, Timmy


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Jules Robins

Born in San Francisco and currently residing in Los Angeles, Jules Robins has been playing Magic since Odyssey. While he regularly plays in PTQs and nearby Grand Prix, Jules' real passion is for Commander. Between studying physics and performing in improvisational sketches, Jules will be dishing out weekly Commander strategy, philosophy, and deck lists at a monitor near you.

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5 thoughts on “Innistrad in the Shuffle

  1. My favorite tribal general is Darien, King of Kjeldor. He lets you build a tribal deck, with all the best soldiers, but also gives you the ability to do combo-like stuff. Mindstorm Crown doesn't seem so bad when it's a choice between a Howling Mine or a Bitterblossom. Darien + Soul Warden = "If you hit me, you better hope it kills me." Pain lands give me instant-speed blockers, if needed.

    I also run a suite of equipment for the tokens to carry. One of each Sword Of, Skullclamp (super awesome with tokens), two pairs of boots, Jitte, etc, and a Stoneforge Mystic / Stonehewer Giant to fetch them out. All the removal is 1-for-1, as I generally rely on my creatures to take care of opposing armies (as opposed to a Wrath effect). The deck is built for casual 1v1, but it can run away with some 4-5 person games just by building a mass of tokens and discouraging people from attacking. Very fun!

  2. I´ve got a wolf-tribel deck, which is built around Tolsimir Wolfblood. He is not really a Wolf-Lord, but he lets me play with white as another color. The deck is mostly meant for fun-play since its not that competitive but has a lot of flavour. I´m really looking forward for the Innistrad release because there are already some nice wolf-cards spoiled and maybe some of the werewolfs will also be included.

    I really like the posted Zombie-Deck of yours. Looks like lots of fun to play.

    1. Another interesting idea! A wolf deck sounds pretty awesome, and now that the Innistrad spoiler is complete, I can see that it has a couple of goodies for you. Here's hoping the rest of the block brings more.

  3. This is the first Commander decklist I've ever seen that I actually want to build and play. Starting to collect now! BRAAAAAIINS 😀

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