Tuesday, November 11, 2014

C14: Optimizing Ob Nixilis

By now, many of you have probably gotten your hands on the new 2014 edition Commander decks, and are looking to fix them up a bit. And, I’m sure, most of you don’t really need a lot of help in that regard – you probably had your changes and improvements mapped out before the decks even hit store shelves. But there will always be some bit of tech you might have missed… or maybe you’re like me and just have no clue which direction to take a mono-colored deck. I’ve built quite a few mono-colored EDH decks, but those of you who’ve been reading a long time might have realized I have never posted a mono-color list here on the Command Zone. That’s because 100% of the mono-colored decks I’ve built have been failures, in my opinion. Some, like Azami or Arcum Dagsson were powerful, but inherently anti-social and unfun to play. Others, like my early attempt at mono-red Goblins were quite the opposite: not powerful enough to hold their own and thus not fun to play (note: this was long before stuff like Purphoros or Krenko existed – that deck would likely be awesome today).

Anywho, point being, I’ve dabbled in monocolor before and found it deeply unsatisfying, so it’s a welcome challenge to myself to try and fix up these new decks into something I actually enjoy playing and occasionally win games with. If I can help you all along the way to find a few cards you might not have otherwise thought of, then so much the better.

Fair warning, though, as the world of monochromatic EDH decks is NOT my forte, I expect a lot of low-hanging fruit to be plucked at first. I’m actually hoping you, my dear readers, can help me plumb the depths of obscure and forgotten Magic cards to find some hidden gems. I’m also trying not to radically change the direction or themes of these decks, at least for now, keeping the overall feel of the deck more or less in line with the starting lists. Perhaps if these work out and I become inspired to make a few monocolored decks permanent fixtures in my stable of decks, I will likely do more thorough and radical redesigns. It really just depends on what seems fun and what inspires me.

So for now, these articles are more about cutting the chaff, exploring the existing themes already present, and just bumping up the power levels so the decks can fare a bit better against “real” decks (though don’t expect the end results to be highly competitive – I’m building with my own playgroup in mind, which is quite casual-friendly).

The first deck I want to work on is the Ob Nixilis deck, “Sworn to Darkness”. 

On the surface, this deck seems to be a fairly eclectic mix of themes without a whole lot of cohesion. Some of the themes of the deck include: board control, reanimation, demons, generating lots of mana and making huge plays, spending life as a resource, and “swamps matter” effects. None of these themes seem to be the overwhelmingly dominant theme of the deck, though some are much more clearly represented than others.

The good news here is that it leaves us open to a lot of possible directions to go in. Probably the best approach is to narrow that list above down to three or four themes, pick one as the clear dominant theme to build around, and let the remaining themes supplement the main strategy. But, again, as I don’t have much experience with mono-color decks, I’m not really sure what I want to do. I’m kind of a fan of pretty much all the themes I listed above, so I’m just going to try to leave them all intact and just bolster each of them to some degree.

In particular, I really like the “swamps matter” and “big mana” lines of play because they complement each other well. Playing cards that reward you just for having lots of swamps in play (think Mutilate, Lashwrithe), and cards that reward you for having a lot of mana (Drana, Profane Command) all work well together, as they both want you to do the same thing – i.e. get out a ton of Swamps. And the thing that really ties both of these themes together? Mana doublers! The deck already gives us a clue to that in the form of Crypt Ghast, which is a great inclusion.

I’m also a control player at heart, so I like all the kill spells and sweepers. Reanimation is a natural counterpart to board control, since killing dudes is not a win-condition in and of itself. So we’ll definitely be keeping this part of the deck intact.

Spending life as a resource is something Black just does, so it’d be pretty hard to imagine building this deck without some degree of that element, but I doubt it’s a thing we want to really focus on. Instead we’ll likely just be more judicious about what specifically we want to spend that life on and make sure we’re going about it in a cost-effective manner. In short, this probably means spending life to draw cards, for the most part.

And finally, the focus on the Demon creature type is something I don’t particularly care about, though it does happen that there are quite a few demons I want to play regardless of any tribal direction. That said, my initial idea for this deck was to go full-in Zombie/Demon/Vampire tribal and really make it a “Creatures of the Night” type of deck, but in the end I felt like making absurd amounts of mana to enable big, stupid, overpowered plays felt more fun and more powerful, even if it’s also a little more obvious and generic.

Also, I wanted to keep Ob Nixilis as the commander of the deck, and he didn’t seem the ideal commander for that direction (not that he’s perfect for the direction I am going in either, but it still seems a better fit overall). So, now that I have at least a rough idea as to where I’m going with this thing, let’s jump in and start making some changes.

Since the big mana thing seems like it’s going to be a major focus, let’s start by sprucing up the mana base a bit. I cannot think of a single card this deck wants more badly than Cabal Coffers (right off the bat we’re going down Obvious Staple Avenue, sorry, but I’m not going to NOT play Coffers am I?). I think Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx could also be exploitable here. I’m not sure how much Urbog, Tomb of Yawgmoth is going to matter here, as we’re still going to be mostly Swamps, but if you really go all-out on the utility non-basics, Urborg will become a must-have in order to ensure your Coffers will work correctly. For now, I’m just throwing in a couple more of the obvious-but-necessary lands like Stronghold and Tower.

Out: Swamp x4, Everglades, Crypt of Agadeem
In: Volrath’s Stronghold, Phyrexian Tower, Nykthos, Urborg, and of course Cabal Coffers. Also throwing in a Leechridden Swamp because, why not?

Cutting Crypt because it just seems far more situational than Nykthos or Coffers. I’m not sure we need all three of those lands, and since Crypt seems the least-reliable out it goes. I also have tried to get on board with the “Karoo” lands, but in playtesting the decks initially, they were really awkward and clunky most of the time. Definitely not a fan.

That takes care of the lands, but the mana base can also be said to include ramp spells such as mana rocks and land-search effects, so we’ll move on to those next. If we’re going for a bit of a Swamps-matter thing, we want things that can ramp up our Swamp count. Solemn Simulacrum is the clear starting point, but I also like the package of Liliana of the Dark Realms and Liliana’s Shade. Both cost four mana and put the swamp in our hand, not into play, which is a bit of a bummer, but they still feel like they’re worth running. Burnished Hart also feels like a must-have, given our goals of amassing lots of Swamps. Wayfarer’s Bauble is probably worthy of consideration as well.

Most of the mana rocks included are fine, but I’m largely unimpressed with Charcoal Diamond, and while Commander’s Sphere is a great card overall, it’s pretty close to being a bad Mind Stone in this deck. We don’t care about making other colors of mana, and the one-time cantrip effect is pretty mediocre in a color that has access to stuff like Necropotence and, possibly, Ob Nixilis’s insane emblem! Liliana’s Shade feels like a direct upgrade to Evernight Shade, trading Undying for the Swamp-fetching ability. I also feel like we can safely drop to 38 lands since we’re adding a few more land-fetchers overall, so we’ll cut a couple more swamps.

(NOTE: According to the official list, Burnished Hart is supposed to be in the deck, but my copy apparently did not contain the Hart, and I did not realize that something was missing. As far as I can tell, no other cards were missing, but I might have had one or two extra Swamps... either way Burnished Hart is a must-have.)

Out: 2x Swamp, Evernight Shade, Charcoal Diamond, Commander’s Sphere
In: Solemn Simulacrum, Liliana’s Shade, Liliana of the Dark Realms, Burnished Hart, Wayfarer’s Bauble

And since we’re still on mana-related issues, we’ll discuss the mana-doubling effects before moving on to other things. Simply put, there are a lot of options here, and I think it’s possible to overdo it here. But maybe I’m wrong and the correct choice is to run all of them? I feel like going overboard here might lead to one or both of two potential issues. One, I find myself in situations where I can make upwards of a brazilion mana but don’t have anything to do with it but ramp into more ramp, which ultimately doesn’t get us anywhere. Two, it works too well and I’m consistently untapping with like three times more mana than my opponents by turn 6 and they start to hate me.

But for discussion’s sake, we have these options at our disposal:

Crypt Ghast (already in)
Magus of the Coffers (already in)
Doubling Cube
Nirkana Revenant
Extraplanar Lens
Gauntlet of Power
Caged Sun

There might be more, but that’s what I could find looking through my own cards. I have not hit up Gatherer to search for more obscure options. I also didn’t list one-shot effects like Bubbling Muck because generally this is an effect we want turn after turn, while things like Bubbling Muck are generally too fleeting and insubstantial to be good in EDH, unless you’re just going to win that turn.

Extraplaner Lens and Gauntlet of Power have their own issues, namely, they can help your opponents as well. If you’re strictly playing this against the other precons then you’re probably pretty safe running these, but if you’re likely to encounter other decks with Swamps, you will need to carefully consider whether it’s worth it or not. You can get around this with the Lens by running Snow-covered Swamps, if you have them, since it’s effect is specifically tied to the name of the land.

Caged Sun and Nirkana Revenant, on the other hand, don’t have symmetrical effects, so despite their hefty six-mana price tags, they seem like shoe-ins, while Doubling Cube is probably solid, but I’m just not sure about it, having never really used it before. So, for now I’m starting out with the Cage and the Revenant, but this is one area where I suggest you season to taste.

I’m cutting Magus of the Coffers because I find it to be incredibly unreliable. There’s no real reason I should untap with Magus less often than I untap with Nirkana Revenant, but that just seems to happen. I almost never tap Magus even once before he dies, but the Revenant seems to live at least a turn cycle somewhat more frequently – but the real advantage is that you can more easily get same-turn value from the Revenant – if you already have a bunch of Swamps, or you can mostly use mana rocks to cast her, leaving some swamps open, you get an immediate return on your investment, which means at least sometimes you can follow up the Revenant with another big threat, and thereby making your opponent have to make a hard choice if they’re holding spot removal.

I also want to cut something big for Caged Sun, and at this point I feel like maybe Morkrut Banshee is the best option. I wanted to cut something that cost six or more, but I like most of the six drops and the ones I don’t like have more direct replacements picked out already. Meanwhile the Banshee is just basically a bad card overall. It’s conditional removal that even when you meet the conditional requirements STILL only kills certain things. However, I would also suggest Kagemaro, First to Suffer as an option for replacing the Banshee. It too is situational, but unlike the Banshee, it generally kills just about anything you need killed.

Out: Magus of the Coffers, Morkrut Banshee
In: Nirkana Revenant, Caged Sun

I may still consider the Extraplaner Lens and/or Doubling Cube, but it depends on how this plays out after I’m done with the first round of upgrades. If I need to go even bigger with the mana, I’ll start with these two.

So, now that we’re done playing with the mana, we need to move one to something else. EDH is all about ramping and drawing, and beating your opponents through having more mana and more cards than them (this is an intentionally narrow oversimplification of the format, but also not entirely inaccurate), and this deck in particular seems to be very much about that, so it seems logical to proceed to the card drawing section next.

The super-obvious thing here is Necropotence, but I’m actually going to give this a pass, personally. I did things with Griselbrand in the short time he was legal that I still feel slightly guilty about, and occasionally had some of those things done to me, as well. So, I’m a bit gun-shy about going down this road. Fortunately black has a lot of good options when it comes to trading life for cards that are also much more fair. I’m sure I’ll miss a boat-load of these, so sound off in the comments if you’ve got a good one, but here are a few of the ones I’m prone to using:

Disciple of Bolas (already in)
Bloodgift Demon (already in)
Promise of Power (already in)
Phyrexian Arena
Graveborn Muse
Dark Prophecy
Harvester of Souls
Erebos, God of the Dead

Some of these I like better than others, but it largely depends on the deck. Dark Prophecy and Graveborn Muse can potentially kill you if you’re not careful, but I’m not sure either of those really belongs here regardless. Arena, Erebos and Harvester feel like better fits given the themes and strategies of the deck so far. I’m not going to mess with the little one-shot spells like Sign in Blood just yet. Really, this is just scratching the surface. We could also consider Sanguimancy, though that is the type of card I’d typically like to cast after a sweeper to get back in the game, but relying on a high devotion count means this will likely be dead or at least very sub-par right after a sweeper. In other words, it’s only really great if you’re already doing well, but I feel like I’d rather have cards that just reliably and consistently keep the gas flowing whether I’m ahead and need to keep the pressure on, or behind and need to catch up. Things like Phyrexian Arena do a good job in both scenarios.

Harvester has the benefit of being a Demon and overlaps with our boar-control game plan. Kill dudes to draw cards? Seems fair. Erebos and Greed are both solid, but I like the God a little more. He’s more mana-intensive than greed, which sucks, but at the same times he’s also Indestructible, keeps life gain in check, and occasionally doubles as a beefy 5/7 beatstick. All of those seem like fair upsides at the cost of a slightly steeper investment of mana.

Out: Phyrexian Gargantua, Syphon Mind, Tragic Slip
In: Harvester of Souls, Erebos, Phyrexian Arena

We’re exchanging one six-drop that draws cards for another, but the Harvester can draw way more cards in the long run than the Limited-fodder Horror can. Syphon Mind is a great card – in a 4-player game, it’s basically a strictly better Harmonize – but the discard aspect just doesn’t seem to matter much in this deck, and it just feels out of place. Erebos will ultimately draw more cards per game, even if a bit slower and more expensive. Finally the Slip comes out just because in early games I found this deck to be a bit overstuffed with situational spot removal. Slip can be great, at times, but it seemed the most expendable of all the various removal spells, so out it goes in favor of a card that will hopefully draw us into more and better removal!

At this point, I’m getting a little bored of focusing on utility spells, and I want to get to something a little more exciting and interesting. We’re looking to make a ton of mana and draw a bunch of cards, but what are we going to do with all that mana and all those cards? Well, I have some ideas about that…

So, one of my goals with these decks was to keep as many of the newly-printed cards intact as possible. And this year’s Commander set has a lot fewer cards in it that I actively, aggressively DO NOT want to play with! There are a lot fewer cards like Hooded Horror, Curse of Chaos or Diviner Spirit – i.e. cards that I thoroughly could not wait to NOT play with – and a lot more cards that I actually want to try out. This deck does have one card that I absolutely hate: Raving Dead. I really hate the combination of abilities here. I mean, I normally dislike the “attack a random player” thing anyway, but combined with the Quietus Spike effect, this just feels like a really bad time, especially when you are randomly forced to attack the player who is already getting screwed and way behind everyone else. Losing half your life because you stumbled on mana or had a creature-light hand is not fun. It just looks like a feel-bad card to me, so it’s getting booted ASAP.

But most of the cards seem cool or interesting and I want to try them out before I decide to cut them. Some of them even hint at other cards we might include for synergy purposes. For example, if I’m going to play Wake the Dead, then I’m sure as heck going to want to play Mikaeus the Unhallowed (props to commenter robdpoplin for pointing out this awesome interaction). Similarly, while it’s not a new card, the inclusion of Sudden Spoiling has me longing for its soul mate Massacre Wurm. None of these four cards is bad on its own, but when paired have delightfully powerful interactions.

Overseer of the Damned mostly just wants you to kill things, and while some spot removal is fine, I don’t want to load up on one-for-ones as we’re supposed to be going for massive card advantage here… instead of the obvious Murders an Go for the Throats here, I want a little more bang for my buck. Fleshbag Marauder, Barter in Blood and Gravepact all see like good ways to super-charge the Overseer, and again, they’re all proven to be fantastic cards individually, so they’re not going to be underpowered without the demon’s help.

I always try to look for little synergistic interactions like these when building decks, especially when it involves cards that are playable already. I suggest you look closely at the other cards you like in the deck and do some brainstorming to look for such interactions. Whenever you look at a card and your mind immediately jumps to another card, it’s usually a good idea to at least consider that card – just beware of the trap of including cards that are great in conjunction with another card, but not very good on their own.

Out: Nekrataal, Vampire Hexmage, Nantuko Shade, Raving Dead, Pontiff of Blight
In: Barter in Blood, Fleshbag Marauder, Grave Pact, Massacre Wurm, Mikaeus the Unhallowed

I’ve long be a fan of Nekrataal, but in EDH it’s just a bit too inefficient and is outclassed by a high number of other removal spells, but in this specific case I think Barter in Blood is the one we really want. Hexmage is cute tech if you’re only playing these against the other C14 decks, but against a wider field she’s often going to be a dead draw. Nantuko Shade is just pretty “meh” in EDH and something had to become a Grave Pact. Raving Dead, I already expressed my dislike for.  Pontiff of Blight seems fine, but I haven’t really seen it turn in a strong performance to date, so it frequently underwhelms. I think Mikaeus will do more work in this slot.

Another thing I want to do is address the life loss we’re likely to incur most games, as we spend life points to draw cards or make demons or whatever. Ob Nixilis, or general, has a bit of lifegain built in, but I don’t think that’s nearly enough. I often turn to things like Blood Artist, Falkenrath Noble, and Kokusho for this, and I think those could work here. But for now I want to try some different options than the ones I’m used to. (There’s also Exsanguinate, which given our trajectory with the massive mana production, seems a PERFECT fit, and indeed it is – but I don’t like the win-out-of-nowhere-with-a-massive-X-spell endgame. It pretty much forces someone to have a counterspell up right then or you win – and given my group’s stance on countermagic, that’s pretty close to impossible, making Exsanguinate pretty much an unbeatable win condition, which is not very sporting.)

Exquisite Blood seems like it could really gain a lot of life over the course of a game, as it will gain you life even when opponents attack each other and you stay out of the fray. It also makes Ob Nixilis’s +2 a little better, and mitigates the life cost of the -2. Whip of Erebos is more of a reanimation effect primarily, but it’s secondary ability of giving your team Lifelink feels like it’d be more appreciated here than in the average deck. And finally I like Suffer the Past for a bit of graveyard hate with a drain-life bonus. Yes, it’s an X-spell that can technically kill someone out of nowhere, but it’s limited by the number of cards in their graveyard, so they have to have more cards in their ‘yard than they have life points, and if that’s the case they’re probably about dead or up to something really scary anyway. But realistically this is only going to be lethal once in a blue moon, and I can live with that. Otherwise it’s just a really underappreciated GY hate spell, that also fits our life-gain criteria nicely.

Out: Victimize, Skeletal Scrying, Bad Moon
In: Whip of Erebos, Suffer the Past, Exquisite Blood

It hurts a bit cutting a two-mana enchantment for a five-mana one… but whatever, Bad Moon was basically a dead card most of the time anyway. It rarely mattered if your 2/2 Zombie tokens were 3/3 instead, and that +1/+1 seemed to matter even less once you started dropping 6/6 and 7/7 demons. If you were going with massive hordes a la Army of the Damed or Empty the Pits, it’d make more sense but that’s not our main goal right now. I also hated to cut a draw spell in Skeletal Scrying, but I also hated having to pay 1 life, 1 mana and 1 card in my graveyard PER CARD to draw cards. It just doesn’t seem worth it, and I think we’ve made up for it in other, better draw spells already, so I doubt we miss this. Victimize is a fine card, but usually I don’t have anything I want to sacrifice unless I happen to have a spare Zombie token, but the “ETBF tapped” clause is the real dealbreaker. Whip seems better in the long run, plus we really want that Lifelink.

And finally we come to the point where we’re just looking for opportunities to swap in straight upgrades – cards that do the same thing but better – or just throw in some good cards we really want to be playing with. I already know I don’t want to be playing stuff like Annihilate and Aether Snap. Dregs of Sorrow seems fine once we start cranking out tons of mana, but I think Decree of Pain is just a better option. Under ideal circumstances, Dregs can basically be a Decree of Pain meets Plague Wind, leaving your own board intact while killing everything else and drawing a ton of cards, but I don’t foresee that actually happening too often. Plus, Decree takes care of Hexproof/Shroud/Protection-from-Black creatures that Dregs can’t interact with. But here are my final swaps, with more explanation afterward:

Pestilence Demon --> Sepulchral Primordial
Aether Snap --> Increasing Ambition
Dread Return --> Beacon of Unrest
Sign in Blood --> Demonic Tutor
Annihilate --> Living Death
Abyssal Persecutor --> Phyrexian Obliterator

Pestilence Demon is just a bit expensive and clunky, and I really wanted the Primordial in there somewhere, so there you go. Aether Snap, like Hexmage, is cute tech if you’re just playing this deck against other C14 decks. It’s probably not terrible outside the confines of these decks as well, but I’ve simply never found myself yearning for it so… gone. In its place, one of the best tutors you could run in a deck capable of producing the kind of mana we’re going for. Dread Return is awesome, but I just find I never have three creatures I actually want to sacrifice. If sac’ing one guy to get two isn’t good enough (see Victimize above), then sac’ing three to get one is downright unappealing. In a more token-heavy build, Dread Return would be fine. Here, though I like the versatility of Beacon – it can even get back my Caged Sun if that gets blown up.

Sign in Blood is pretty “meh” compared to Demonic Tutor – getting the exact card you want is pretty much always better than drawing two random cards. Living Death just had to be in the deck, period. It’s a great card, and more or less on theme here, so say goodbye to the extremely mediocre Annihilate. And I just have no idea why Abyssal Persecutor is in this deck. I mean, I can and have imagined scenarios where it can be interesting/useful in a multiplayer environment… but still, it just seems ridiculously silly. This can pretty much be almost anything – I considered everything from Anwon the Ruin Sage to Dimir House Guard to Mimic Vat, but when you happen to have a Phyrexian Obliterator in your collection that you’ve somehow never once gotten to play, well, you’ll take the first chance you get!

So, after adding up all of those changes we have the below list, which is pretty much the version I’m running now. I have made a couple of tweaks since I wrote my initial draft, but I can’t remember exactly what they were, but nothing major or terribly interesting I’m sure. I’m sure I’ll continue to tweak and refine the list over the coming months.

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath

Skirsdag High Priest
Fleshbag Marauder
Flesh Carver
Crypt Ghast
Disciple of Bolas
Erebos, God of the Dead
Liliana's Shade
Liliana's Reaver
Phyrexian Obliterator
Bloodgift Demon
Demon of Wailing Agonies
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Ghoulcaller Gisa
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Nirkana Revenant
Grave Titan
Harvester of Souls
Massacre Wurm
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Reaper from the Abyss
Xathrid Demon
Butcher of Malakir
Overseer of the Damned
Sepulchral Primordial
Solemn Simulacrum

Spoils of Blood
Phyrexian Arena
Exquisite Blood
Demonic Tutor
Malicious Affliction
Read the Bones
Sudden Spoiling
Tendrils of Corruption
Whip of Erebos
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Barter in Blood
Grave Pact
Infernal Offering
Increasing Ambition
Living Death
Beacon of Unrest
Promise of Power
Necromantic Selection
Decree of Pain
Suffer the Past
Black Sun's Zenith
Wake the Dead
Profane Command
Sol Ring
Wayfarer's Bauble
Burnished Hart
Jet Medallion
Mind Stone
Swiftfoot Boots
Unstable Obelisk
Worn Powerstone
Caged Sun

Arcane Lighthouse
Barren Moor
Bojuka Bog
Cabal Coffers
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Ghost Quarter
Myriad Landscape
Polluted Mire
Volrath's Stronghold
Phyrexian Tower
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Leechridden Swamp
Swamp x27

(*NOTE: There are 29 lands in this list due to the packaging error I failed to notice, wherein my deck contained no Burnished Hart and and extra land. So, I cut a "real" card for the Hart and was playing +1 Swamp more than I thought... once I realized this I swapped out the extra Swamp for something... I'm 99% it was a Dimir House Guard, but I'd seriously consider Extraplanar Lens as well.)

In the meantime there are a huge number of other cards I considered and might try to squeeze in eventually:

Geth, Lord of the Vault (probably a mistake to leave out, but I play this guy EVERYWHERE)
Dimir House Guard
Damnation (I think I did add this eventually but can’t remember what I cut)
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Rune-Scarred Demon (really needs to go in!)
Mimic Vat (also seems like a must-have)
Puppeteer Clique
Grim Haruspex
Phyrexian Reclamation
Grim Return
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Vampiric Tutor
Soul of Innistrad
Bloodline Keeper
… and basically every other big, splashy Black rare or mythic I could find.

Another angle I considered… well, let’s say I was aware of, but never actually gave it serious thought, is the more grindy “stax” build. Anwon, Braids, Smokestack, Descent into Madness, etc… this seemed like a really poor fit for my playgroup, though, and I’m not even sure I’d enjoy playing this style of deck. It also felt like it’d pretty much have to be rebuilt from the ground up to go this way, though I think the deck would fit Ob-Nixlis well enough.

In sort, there are a LOT of ways you could go with this deck, but Ob-Nixlis is open-ended enough to not lock you into a particular strategy. That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, though, as his generic-ness makes it hard to find inspiration. Had you given me JUST Ob Nixilis without the other 99 cards in the deck as a starting point, I doubt I’d have come up with anything resembling the list above. It also means that for pretty much any deck I could build for him, I could probably find a better option to be the commander for that deck. So basically he can potentially lead a wide variety of decks, but is almost never the optimal choice to lead those decks! I’m still waiting for someone to come up with the deck idea that makes Ob-Nixlis the best possible choice to be the commander, as I really would like to know exactly what kind of deck that would be.

(For the record, if I were to replace Nixy with a  new commander for this deck, I’d pick someone who can both utilize ridiculous amounts of mana, and provide some form of card advantage to keep the deck running. Drana is a nice mana sink, but doesn’t do much to keep the gas going, so I’d probably go with either Geth or Erebos.)

Well, that pretty much taps me out on ideas for this deck, for now. I think this is a solid start to a very playable deck, but I’ll have to play it a while before I know what works and what doesn’t.  I will make some small refinements here and there, and I am always looking for suggestions on things I may have overlooked, so let me know if I missed out on some gems.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I know this post was made about two and a half months ago, but I just found it and read it. I got the SWORN TO DARKNESS deck in December for Christmas and was looking for ideas. First I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this out and posting it. It was a fun read.

    Second, I wanted to point out that this deck has a "sacrifice for profit" sub theme that wasn't really acknowledged. Ghoulcallr Gisa, Xathrid Demon, and Disciple of Bolas start things off, but they can be expanded on if you so desire. This ties directly into our commander. If the bigger the creature I sacrifice equates to the more value I get, then I am thrilled to have consistent access to "free" 5/5 tokens from my commander.

    Third, I wanted to make some recommendations. Out of the box, the deck comes with Vampire Hexmage and Æther Snap. To me, those two cards are just begging for me to add Dark Depths. Similar to how you had a Phyrexian Obliterator waiting for the right deck, I have a foil Dark Depths from the Cold Snap release and the foil token looking for a home outside of my binder. Dark Depths isn't cheap at the $50 price range, but it is really cool. Also, if I am going to go the Dark Depths route, and we already have Cabal Coffers, then thespian's Stage should be an auto-include as well. If you copy Dark Depths, then the "new" legendary rule applies and you choose to keep the Thespian's Stage version. Then, because it is already in play, it doesn't have the EtB trigger, which means no ice counters, which means you get the token for 2 colorless at instant speed (end of turn activation, untap and swing!)

    Now, if we are going to use Cabal Coffers, Thespian's Stage, Dark Depths, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth... then we should also add in Expedition Map. You are always going to have a target with this thing.

    I am personally going with a demon sub theme. I kept Pestilence Demon and swapped a lot of other demons into the deck in exchange for other creatures of he same casting cost as to not mess with he curve too much. For example: I know Butcher of Malakir is good, but Rune-Scarred Demon fits the "theme' better and this is Commander, not a tournament deck. Like you, I had to swap Phyrexian Gargantuan out for Harvester of Sarrow... I mean Souls (Metallica theme deck?) For the time being, Kagemaro, First to Suffer has to replace Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief at the 5cc slot. I am also keeping Abyssal Persecutor. It's drawback almost never matters, and as I wrote earlier, this deck likes to sacrifice creatures for value at any time, not just when you are ready to win.