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Hey everyone! By the time this goes up, the Avacyn Restored release weekend will be behind us. Hopefully everyone's had a chance to play with the new cards and crack a bomb or two. If you're like me you're excited to start picking up some of the new cards for Commander. This set has certainly brought us a ton of new toys to play with.
I don't want to spend lots of time talking about stuff that's obviously insane. I'm sure my readers can figure out where to include things like Reforge the Soul, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Craterhoof Behemoth. I'd rather explore the gems that stand to do more work than people expect. After that we'll get to our deck for this week.
Picks for Avacyn Restored
I've included Falkenrath Noble in more than one deck without being embarrassed and it's not because of the 2/2 body. Incremental Drain Life effects like this are much more powerful than people give them credit for. Creatures die constantly in this format and I've gained upwards of twenty life after sticking an early Falkenrath Noble and letting it sit in play. This is the same effect for cheaper.
This is my pick for best Commander card in the set. (It also makes me question why blue gets all the good creatures but that's a different issue.) Pair this guy with anything when he comes down and he's immune to everything short of mass removal. You can play him early and then blink him at will to repair with whatever you draw later. Eventually you'll find something unfair to blink repeatedly like Mulldrifter or Draining Whelk. This guy just screams value and he comes with built-in protection.
Versatile utility cards are good. Hull Breach and Relic Crush are both fine cards, and the newest version even hits a land. It's a weird set where green gets the best utility spells, but I guess that's fine. I prefer Relic Crush over this in mono-green, for situations where you need to kill two of the same type of permanent, but Rain of Thorns is probably better most of the time.
Don't let the text fool you; this doesn't actually deal damage to creatures unless something's gone horribly wrong. To kill someone from their starting life total you only need fourteen creatures. If that sounds like a lot, how about hitting someone for twenty-one? Seven creatures isn't that many in the late game and I'm sure your red deck can manage the other twenty damage. This is the red version of Hatred or Tainted Strike and I imagine it will end many games unexpectedly.
Hey, guy with a million utility creatures (read: me), you can't block ever again. Oh by the way, you're dead too. This guy may not generate infinite damage on his own like Craterhoof Behemoth, but he can force through the damage on board just as effectively. He also costs a third as much. This guy is excellent both with and against token decks, either sneaking in a ton of damage or blanking all the opponents' chump-blockers. I don't think it's going to change the format or anything, but it's another Overrun that's easy to tutor up in green.
A Quick Aside on Griselbrand
Griselbrand has been the center of some amount of controversy in the Commander community. Should it be banned? As a general or altogether?
My snap judgment is that it's very likely to get banned immediately in June. It's closer to Yawgmoth's Bargain than to anything else. It doesn't cost much more and comes attached to a huge upside. Sure, it's a creature and you can kill it. That's nice. Too bad they've already drawn upwards of twenty cards and comboed you off.
As a general this guy is completely oppressive. You can easily build your deck to ramp into Griselbrand on turn four or five. If they have removal, you can play the one ramp spell you didn't discard and cast him again. At that point you've either stocked up on answers or [card Exsanguinate]exanguinated[/card] the table to death. For an absolutely laughable comparison, just take a look at Kokusho, the Evening Star. Even that guy is already banned.
Based on the few games I've played with Griselbrand, I can say with confidence that he can't be a legal Commander, and probably should be banned outright.
Innistrad block has been absolutely insane for Zombie decks, and I've gotten a ton of emails asking me to look at Zombie decks of different flavors. I really wanted to wait until the full block came out before doing a full-fledged tribal Zombie deck.
Here's the problem: since everyone wants to build Zombie decks right now and it's a real archetype in Standard, the price of some cards has jumped out of reach for a significant portion of casual players. Because of that, I'm going to brew with budget in mind, keeping to one color and using Balthor the Defiled for longevity.
If you're looking for a few more rares and colors, take a look at my article on Grim-Grin for some ideas.
Since I've already used up so much of my word count talking about the new set, I'll be a little more succinct in describing the [card Balthor the Defiled]Balthor[/card] build. I'll start with the decklist, then talk about the themes, and lastly how to tweak it to fit your personal budget.
This deck is built to be a linear pseudo-combo deck. You can bring the beatdowns if necessary but that's not really plan A. You'd rather just dump as many zombies as possible into play and into your graveyard, then use [card Balthor the Defiled]Balthor[/card] to reanimate them. Finally, sacrifice your board and drain everyone to death with Vengeful Dead, Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble.
This kind of recursion gets pretty mana intensive, so the deck is heavy on mana sources and cards that find them. Once [card Balthor the Defiled]Balthor[/card] reaches a mana cost of ten or more you'll have to tap out to cast him and leave him vulnerable. When they kill him he just gets more expensive. Because you're so dependent on Balthor you can't afford to miss land drops.
With access to both Cackling Fiend and Rotting Rats you have a reasonable amount of hand disruption, but you could go farther and add Sadistic Hypnotist as well. However, the only opposing disruption you're concerned with is graveyard hate, which is hard to answer with discard since they usually cast their [card Tormod's Crypt]crypts[/card] and [card Relic of Progenitus]relics[/card] preemptively.
Creatures, on the other hand, you have pretty well contained. Noxious Ghoul is the best way to keep those under control, but you also have Skinrender and Farbog Boneflinger. Even if people manage to remove one or more of these pieces, you have enough redundancy to kill the most problematic creatures with minimal effort.
Adjusting for Budget
This whole deck can be acquired for about $36 on most online Magic stores. For reference I used prices from Star City Games.
All things considered, $36 is pretty reasonable for a Commander deck. But maybe you want to try to deck first before deciding to invest in it. Fortunately, cutting just a few specific cards will lower the price significantly. The biggest problem is that the best Zombie lords and token generators are expensive, and those are integral to the deck. But you can certainly shave the following:
Night's Whisper (1.49)
Buried Alive (1.99)
Unbreathing Horde (1.39)
Soulless One (1.99)
Cemetery Reaper (1.99)
Perhaps you have some extra goodies lying around that can replace these. If not, you might sub in some of these cheaper options:
Call to the Grave (0.65)
Cruel Revival (0.15)
Deathmark Prelate (0.25)
Ghoulcaller's Chant (0.15)
Onyx Mage (0.25)
So let's say you built the deck, played some games and decided you love it. What cards can you invest in to improve the performance? First we have the obvious Zombie lords, Lord of the Undead and Undead Warchief, as well as Entomb as an enabler. I also suggest the following:
Patriarch's Bidding (5.99)
Graveborn Muse (0.75)
Unholy Grotto (3.99)
Volrath's Stronghold (18.99)
Grave Titan (10.99)
Grave Pact (4.99)
Liliana Vess (7.99)
These cards either help you control the board or lessen your reliance on [card Balthor the Defiled]Balthor[/card]. Each of them adds another dimension and line of attack to the deck.
Between Gravecrawler, Volrath's Stronghold and Unholy Grotto, you gain a suite of combo pieces that work independently of Balthor. Gravecrawler combos with a sacrifice outlet to deal 1-3 damage per activation whereas [card Volrath's Stronghold]Stronghold[/card] and [card Unholy Grotto]Grotto[/card] let you Gempalm Polluter people to death.
Skullclamp and Graveborn Muse provide much-needed card advantage to make sure you hit land drops and develop your board simultaneously.
Finally, Grave Pact and Attrition control the board and grind people out until your Zombie horde is ready for some smashing.
This deck is a great way to start playing Commander. It has been doing just fine in our local games. While certainly not the powerhouse that some of the veteran Commander players run, it's more than serviceable and can be powered up a ton with staples like Cabal Coffers and Demonic Tutor.
One of the biggest draws for me in a new deck is a cheap starting price and plenty of room to grow. [card Balthor the Defiled]Balthor[/card] delivers on both counts.
That's all I've got for this week. Next week I plan to address an issue people ask me about a lot: how to beat turbo combo decks without escalating the arms race with an even faster combo deck. If you're looking for some technology to fight the war on unfun Commander decks, be sure to check it out!
@cag5383 on Twitter