Skullbriar, Innistrad’s Bestest Buddy

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Innistrad, quelle horreur. We're seeing a lot of interesting cards come from the heavily flavored set.

That sounds so odd, "heavily flavored set," like some kind of alternate scratch'n'sniff.

Nevermind. The wonderful thing about Innistrad is that it plays so well, both thematically and mechanically, with two of the commanders introduced in the Devour for Power deck, Damia, Sage of Stone and Skullbriar, the Walking Grave.

BUG, that is black-blue-green, decks have been done to death, and every time you add blue to a deck you start travelling down the same old broken path. So I thought I'd take a look at pulling together a Skullbriar, the Walking Grave deck that takes advantage of the new things from Innistrad.

Here's our deck list so far:

Skullbriar, the Crying Talking, Sleeping, Walking Living Grave

Skullbriar is a beatdown card if ever I've seen one. He's fast, savage, and becomes particularly broken if we can abuse his counter-making ability.

The green-black deck we want is going to work on that beatdown theme. Most GB decks want to play The Rock or The Ramp, but we want to play The Rod, happily smacking heads in the redzone.

The first cards we're going to steal from Innistrad are Splinterfright and Boneyard Wurm, getting us straight into a "creatures in the graveyard" matters theme. Both act as the original Lhurgoyf, but for less mana (and Splinterfright also helps us fill our graveyard). Clearly Lhurgoyf and Tarmogoyf will make it into the deck, giving us some pretty cheap creatures that can hit for a billion. Once we add Lord of Extinction and Mortivore our theme of filling the graveyard for profit becomes settled quite nicely, and adding Golgari Grave-Troll makes sense. We'll round this out with Sewer Nemesis: dude has one eye, so he's gotta be pretty powerful.

Skullbriar, the Crying Talking, Sleeping, Walking Living Grave

In regards to counters, we will stretch back in time to that Commander favorite Doubling Season. With that in hand, it seems crazy not to try out the new Innistrad card Parallel Lives, which is a Doubling Season fur just tokens. This adds a new "token generation" theme to the deck, and immediately makes me want to play Worm Harvest and Creakwood Liege (certainly two peas in a pod).

Between Boneyard Wurm, Worm Harvest, Creakwood Liege, there seems to be a bit of a Wurm/Worm theme, so adding a Massacre Wurm, Crush of Wurms, and Garruk, Primal Hunter seems to make a lot of sense. And if we're abusing counters, Vulturous Zombie, one of my most favorite cards of all time ever deserves a home as well. Necrogenesis is on color, makes tokens, and hoses other people's graveyards (and is absolutely perfect for this deck).

Skullbriar, the Crying Talking, Sleeping, Walking Living Grave

Speaking of Garruk, I guess he's the 100-pound veil-cursed psychopathic gorilla in the room. In a format like Commander, where you're running so many one-of utility creatures, anything that acts as a continual tutor is a good thing, especially when you're making so many tokens to sacrifice. As a result Garruk Relentless/Garrul, the Veil-Cursed, the new transforming Garruk from Innistrad seems a great choice for the deck, regardless of how nutty he seems to be (both literally and metaphorically).

Speaking of both tutoring for creatures and filling the graveyard, I guess it makes sense to add our friends Fauna Shaman, Survival of the Fittest, and Birthing Pod. With all that sacrificing going on we'd best add some cards to get value out of all this stuff going to our graveyard (and not just growing our creatures). Fecundity and the little played Foster seem like a great idea. I thinking adding Savra, Queen of the Golgari is a nice addition as well, and if we're going to keep our path clear, Grave Pact is probably just as nice (no matter what your opponents will think of you when you play it). Master of the Wild Hunt can play along too.

At the same time, I'm going to try and steer away from Hermit Druid, as that way leads to the dark side (ie. Necrotic Ooze).

Skullbriar, the Crying Talking, Sleeping, Walking Living Grave

I don't think I'm going to travel down the "Werewolf" theme with this deck, but I might want to dip a little into dredge mechanic to make sure the graveyard stays full. However, there is one another mechanic from Innistrad that suits the deck: morbid. Morbid reacts whenever a creature dies during that turn and, since we'll be doing a lot of sacrificing and opponent-creature-killing, morbid is right up our ally.

Only a few morbid cards have been released so far, but right now Reaper of the Abyss and Morkut Banshee seem great in a deck that gets value out of killing its own creatures. To help ensure we have a sacrifice outlet, and easy-to-sacrifice creatures, we'll add Attrition and Awakening Zone to the mix.

We also want to kill our opponent's creatures. GB has a fine range of removal, including Pernicious Deed, Putrefy, and Maelstrom Pulse. We can mix it up with Barter in Blood, Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, and Chainer's Edict. However, as we really want as many creatures as possible, we'll swap out Doom Blade for Shriekmaw and Go for the Throat for Nekrataal.

Skullbriar, the Crying Talking, Sleeping, Walking Living Grave

Taking a look at the deck thus far, I recognize I need to round out my token generators and tutors/graveyard fillers, and could stand add some more beaters as well. There are plenty of good token generators left in green and black, including Ant Queen, Archdemon of Unx (which turns on morbid), Avenger of Zendikar, Bitterblossom, Grave Titan, Jade Mage, Kazandu Tuskcaller, Mycoloth, Rampaging Baloths, Skeletal Vampire, Sprout Swarm (which becomes crazy the longer you have it for), Terastodon, and Wolfbriar Elemental. (Whew!)

The two that interest me most in a beatdown deck are Rampaging Baloths and Grave Titan, although Mycoloth seems broken with Doubling Season and Parallel Lives in play. Terastodon is also a fine utility creature.

In regards to tutors, the obvious ones are Demonic Tutor, Worldly Tutor, and Imperial Seal, which should round out the tutor suite quite nicely, giving the deck a higher level of consistency.

At this point I have six categories of cards:

  1. Goyf Creatures
  2. Token Generators
  3. Utility Creatures
  4. Tutors/Graveyard Fillers
  5. Utility Enchantments
  6. Removal

The three categories I think I'll add are Graveyard Stockers, Card Draw (something the deck is sorely lacking), and Recursion.

Under Graveyard Stockers I'm going to add Wild Mongrel, Vampire Hounds, and Oona's Prowler, which are interesting beatdown cards, especially if you have enough ways of restocking your hand. They aren't your traditional graveyard crew, but I'm trying to get more creatures going, as opposed to running sorceries such as Buried Alive. I'm also going to add Krosan Tusker, Yavimaya Elder, and Viridian Emissary, as the deck needs a little ramp and these guys provide it while filling the graveyard (Emissary over Sakura-Tribe Elder as he's a little more aggressive). Lastly, I'll add Stinkweed Imp as he's a great little creature that can fill the graveyard while holding down the fort.

Under Card Draw, adding Hunter's Insight, Harmonize, Masked Admirers, Phyrexian Arena, Decree of Pain, Ohran Viper, and Sword of Fire and Ice would add enough card refill to the deck. The Sword is particularly good with the amount of critters in the deck, but we haven't committed heavily to an equipment plan.

Finally there's Recursion. I'm a little in love with Sheoldred, The Whispering One and the ever-staple Genesis. Eternal Witness is always great and will happily bash face. Disturbed Burial, while not a creature, is generally pretty good at taking over a game. Then I'm going to add a sneaky Sol Ring, Lightning Greaves, and Sensei's Divining Top into this list. They have nothing to do with recursion, but they do need to find a home.

And here's what you get.

Skullbriar, the Crying Talking, Sleeping, Walking Living Grave

All it needs now are lands.

Innistrad helps out once again with the new BG land, Woodland Cemetary. After that, adding Verdant Catacombs, Twilight Mire, Tainted Wood, Overgrown Tomb, Golgari Rot Farm, Gilt-Leaf Palace, Command Tower, and Bayou are no-brainers. Temple of the False Gods gives us a little ramp, and utility lands such as Maze of Ith, Arena, Bojuka Bog, Diamond Valley, Wasteland, Stripmine, Treetop Village, Thawing Glaciers, and Volrath's Stronghold should round out the non-basics. After that's it's just Swamps and Forests.

As an afterthought to building the manabase, I'm going to add a Skinshifter into the Creatures, as the low curve of the deck can probably afford one less land and one more two-drop.

Skullbriar, the Crying Talking, Sleeping, Walking Living Grave

That's a deck that truly loves to live in the red-zone. I can't see any immediate "combo out' scenarios as I've tried to avoid them: no Hermit Druid and Necrotic Ooze, no Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Woodfall Primus with Greater Good, not even a Tooth and Nail. Despite the "missing" punch, it should be pretty resilient in the long run. It's also missing some "high-power" staples, such as Sudden Death and Krosan Grip, but it's feels like it could be a blast. I'm going to give it a go and see how it runs once the noted cards in Innistrad come out. [Editor's Note: Cards are legal in Commander as of their set's Prerelease. Get out there next weekend!]

Now About Those Wolves

A fair number of the new transform cards in Innistrad are Werewolves. I'm not sure how I feel about them in Commander yet. I think that, in all likelihood, without cards like Moonmist they are simply never going to transform. How often do you see a turn of Commander happen where no one plays a spell? Not all that often. And there are any number of turns where someone will play two, which will make keeping them transformed difficult as well.

I'll test them, and they may be fine for one-in-one play, but they don't appear terribly overpowered. Their numbers are few, and it may not be until the third set that they get a chance to shine. Until a critical mass is achieved I don't hold out much hope.

Stop in next week when I talk about competitive mono-green. Have fun! And if you have any lists you'd like me to review don't forget to send 'em through to!

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