Leviathan's picture
By: Leviathan, Mike Morales
Apr 29 2010 2:56pm
Login to post comments

I.  A little history/primer

First, before I get on to the meat of the article, I wanted to point something out.  While doing research, I found tempesteye's excellent article about the rules of Commander and what to expect from the format here:

I definitely think you should check it out, as the article still holds up.  It gives you the basics on the rules of Commander, as well as a very brief overview of some of the archetypes you may see while playing, plus differences between EDH and it's online cousin.  So check it out for a little primer on the format.
II.  Introduction

The other day I was feeling a little self-absorbed, even a little Machiavellian.  While contemplating a scheme to increase my standing and power at the office, I realized I hadn't made a mono-black Commander deck.  Rather than force my will upon those at my workplace, I thought I would focus my efforts on a more fun, although maybe not more productive, outlet.

I decided to do a little research, and looked up what Mark Rosewater, the demigod of Magic, had to say about black back in 2002:

Black is about seizing power. Its ongoing goal is to use whatever means necessary to get what it wants. As such black represents numerous elements of the seedier side of life.



Machevelian thinking
Destruction (calculated)
Sacrifice of Others
Sacrifices Pieces of Self

Self Absorbtion

Wow, that sounds pretty much right up my alley right now!  Two of the elements even fit directly into my mood (almost like I planned it that way)!  Time for a black deck!

III.  The Deck:  Traitorous Instincts

So what's a way to move forward with these slightly selfish thoughts?  By using a Commander who doesn't need to worry about combat or Commander damage, and can just hit people directly in the face with his skinny little hands.  There are plenty of black Commanders, but only one spoke to my inner individualism.  So, in the words of Tony Montana, "Say hello to my little friend!":

Maga, Traitor to Mortals

Someone should tell him he needs a new hat.  Also, for a skinny little guy, he can get really, really large.  It's pretty obvious how to use this guy:  Make huge amounts of mana and hit people on the dome with him.  Then either attack with a large Maga, or sacrifice him for our own gain so that we can dome an opponent again.  Some may say that this is not a very interesting way to win or play the game.  But I don't care.  Really, it's all about me, and what I want.  So there.  Here's the deck:


Even in a deck based around a "combo" I can't help but have a couple of fun creatures.  Here's a look at some of the card choices:

Cabal CoffersDoubling CubeGauntlet of PowerExtraplanar LensMagus of the Coffers Cabal Coffers, Doubling Cube, Gauntlet of Power, Extraplanar Lens, Magus of the Coffers:  This is obviously how you start making huge gobs of mana.  In addition, Vesuva can act as Coffers number 2 and Deserted Temple can untap your Coffers so you can tap it again for more mana.  Obviously Snow-Covered Swamps would be better in this deck due to Extraplanar Lens, but I did not have that many.

Liliana VessDemonic TutorDiabolic TutorGrim TutorDiabolic IntentExpedition Map Liliana Vess, Demonic Tutor, Diabolic Tutor, Grim Tutor, Diabolic Intent, Expedition Map:  Your tutors.  I include Expedition Map here because the card you tutor for the most is Coffers.  The rest are also fun to grab.

Loxodon WarhammerShizo, Death's Storehouse Loxodon Warhammer, Shizo, Death's Storehouse:  Sometimes after making a huge Maga you just want to swing at people.  Both of these cards help the damage get through.  In addition, there are a lot of legendary creatures in this deck, which helps with Shizo's effectiveness.

Diamond ValleyMiren, the Moaning WellFleshbag MarauderAltar of DementiaBarter in BloodDiabolic IntentInnocent BloodRite of Consumption Diamond Valley, Miren, the Moaning Well, Fleshbag Marauder, Altar of Dementia, Barter in Blood, Diabolic Intent, Innocent Blood, Rite of Consumption:  Most of the time, you will still have the ability to make huge amounts of mana the turn after you cast Maga.  If combat damage isn't the route you want to take, you can just sacrifice Maga, and recast him!  Many of these sacrifice outlets have positive side benefits, such as life gain, tutoring, or being able to hit people for more damage.  The lands also protect your Commander from being tucked.  Good times!

Consume SpiritDrain LifeSoul Burn Consume Spirit, Drain Life, Soul Burn:  Good for pointing damage directly at an opponent's face or pinpoint removal, and even better with lots of black mana.

Graveborn MuseNecropotencePhyrexian ArenaNecrologiaAmbition's CostPromise of PowerSeizan, Perverter of Truth Graveborn Muse, Necropotence, Phyrexian Arena, Necrologia, Ambition's Cost, Promise of Power, Seizan, Perverter of Truth:  If you don't get your tutors, you have to draw your mana producers the hard way.  These help you get you there.  Necrologia is supposed to be a fixed version of Necropotence, and it costs 2 more for only a one shot deal, but it's very good anyway.  Seizan can make people happy, but sometimes he doesn't last long enough for you to benefit from his card drawing.

Butcher of MalakirCrypt RatsDreadMidnight BansheeReiver DemonKagemaro, First to SufferKalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet Butcher of Malakir, Crypt Rats, Dread, Midnight Banshee, Reiver Demon, Kagemaro, First to Suffer, Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet:  Creature control in the form of other creatures.  Great with Volrath's Stronghold.

Beacon of UnrestXiahou Dun, the One-eyedVolrath's StrongholdProfane Command Beacon of Unrest, Xiahou Dun, the One-eyed, Volrath's Stronghold, Profane Command:  A little bit of recursion for your pleasure.  You can use the Command to grab Xiahou Dun in your graveyard, then recur the Command with Xiahou Dun, and do this as many times as you want or have the mana.

Darksteel Colossus Darksteel Colossus:  This guy is a placeholder, waiting for a large Eldrazi, probably Emrakul.  Another card from ROE that would definitely get the add in this deck is Nirkana Revenant, who can probably take the place of Kalitas.  Additional ways to increase your mana are always awesome.

Plus various other forms of destruction and chaos in the forms of Nevinyrral's Disk, Damnation, Decree of Pain, etc.

So your main problems are when your mana generators are destroyed or removed from the game.  You can't do much if they get RFG'd, but something like Grim Discovery can help you return your Coffers to your hand if you find that people are always blowing it up.  I found that the artifacts were more susceptible to getting destroyed though, with Beacon of Unrest being your sole method of retrieval from the graveyard.  However, there are usually enough control elements in the deck to hold off creatures for a while, so you should hopefully have time to set up again if things go wrong.

There are also the traditional black weaknesses to enchantments and artifacts.  Use your Oblivion Stone and Nevinyrral's Disk wisely.

IV.  The Game:  Fight!

My opponents:

Reaper KingOona, Queen of the FaeThraximundar

Lots of black here.  Seriously, look at the guys above, then check out Maga again in his picture here:

Maga, Traitor to Mortals

Who should win in this battle?  One opponent a scary giant rotting pumpkin thing, another is a large group of flowers, and the final opponent is a zombie assassin.  Read that again:  A Zombie Assassin.  You can even make an argument that Oona and her large group of flowers are sorta scary because it basically looks like a bunch of animated flowers and bugs, sorta like that guy Keanu Reeves fought in the street in "Constantine" (there's your obscure movie reference for the article, let me know if you have any idea what I'm talking about in the comments).  The little dude with the funny hat and skinny arms should not win this.  However, he definitely is stronger than he's depicted.  Reaper King wins the roll.  Here's my first hand:

HelldozerDregs of SorrowDiabolic TutorDamnationReiver DemonSwampDemonic Tutor

Helldozer, Dregs of Sorrow, Diabolic Tutor, Damnation, Reiver Demon, Swamp, Demonic Tutor

Obviously bad.  Only one land isn't going to get us far.  Going back for hand 2:

Skeletal VampireMirariSwampBeacon of UnrestJourneyer's KiteSwampDiabolic Tutor

Skeletal Vampire, Mirari, Swamp, Beacon of Unrest, Journeyer's Kite, Swamp, Diabolic Tutor

Risky, but it has a playable Journeyer's Kite.  I should draw another Swamp by turn 3 (hopefully), and that will get the Kite online.  I decide to keep.

For ease of reporting, R = Reaper King, O = Oona, and T = Thraximundar.

Round 1
R:  Savage Lands.
Me:  Draw Dread, play Swamp.
O:  Island.
T:  Island, Skullclamp

Round 2
R:  Jwar Isle Refuge, (41).
Me:  Draw Swamp, play Swamp, Journeyer's Kite.
O:  Swamp, Dimir Signet.
T:  Dreadship Reef, puts a counter on it.

Round 3
R:  Mountain, Shadowmage Infiltrator
Me:  Draw Bane of the Living, play Swamp, activate Kite getting Swamp.
O:  Play Swamp, Breeding Pit, gets a Thrull at the end of his turn.

Breeding Pit
Gotta love the old school cards, even with the new art.

T:  Plays Sunken Ruins, SDT, puts another counter on the Reef.

Round 4
R:  Plays Scalding Tarn, sacs it (40) for Watery Grave, tapped, attacks T with the Infiltrator (39), draws a card, and casts Propaganda.
Me:  Draw Oblivion Stone, play Swamp.
O:  Plays Island, gets another Thrull at the end of his turn.
T:  Plays Creeping Tar Pit, spins the top, puts another counter on the Reef.

Round 5
R:  Plays Exotic Orchard, attacks me with Infiltrator (39), draws a card, and plays Choke.  At this point, O stops responding.  Whether it was due to Choke or not, we don’t know.  He gets ejected.  I search up a Swamp with Kite.

Hoser number 1.  Someone doesn't like blue here.

A note on color hosers:  There are a bunch of hosers out there, and if you don't like a particular color, feel free to use them.  Obviously, people get most annoyed by blue decks, mainly because they don't like their stuff getting countered.  Boil, Boiling Seas, Scald and another card we see later are all decent blue hosers as well.  I had actually played with the Reaper King player the night before, and we got locked out by a Sharuum player with a few different blue based combos.  I remember Reaper King guy was particularly peeved.  So, he obviously updated his deck a little to include some blue hate.  Some of the old school stuff can be pretty nasty, and opponents can get very upset when you play these hosers.  However, sometimes they are just dead cards, so use with caution.

Me:  Draw Necrologia, play Swamp, then Bane of the Living morphed.
T:  Rakdos Carnarium, bouncing an Island, spins Top, puts another counter on the Reef.

Round 6
R:  Plays Mountain, Lightning Reaver.  Attacks me with the Reaver (36) and T with the Infiltrator (38), drawing a card.  At the end of turn, Reaver’s triggered ability kicks in, knocking T to (37) and me to (35).
Me:  Draw Swamp, play it, cast Dread.
T:  Plays Volrath's Stronghold, then Eternity Vessel.

Round 7
R:  Plays Forest.  Attacks T with Reaver and Infiltrator (33).  Casts Grim Tutor (37).  At the end of turn, Reaver’s ability kicks in, knocking T to (31) and me to (33).  Dread then triggers.  R wants to save his Reaver, so he casts a kicked Into the Roil targeting it, and it bounces back to his hand. 
Me:  Draw Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed.  Attack R with Dread (31), paying the 2 for Propaganda.  Search up a Swamp and play it.
T:  Plays Island (37 due to Eternity Vessel), plays Fleshbag Marauder.  I sac my morph, and R sacs his Infiltrator.  T puts another counter on Reef.

Round 8
R:  Beacon of Unrest, targeting Fleshbag Marauder, making me sac Dread.
Me:  Draw Helldozer, search for a Swamp with Kite and play it, then play Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed.
T:  Play Shivan Reef, spins the Top, then Beseech the Queen for Phyrexian Arena.

Round 9
R:  Nature's Wrath.  Oh boy.  Luckily I have an answer in hand.

Nature's Wrath
Hoser number 2.  Someone really doesn't like blue.  And this one hurts me as well

Me:  Draw Swamp.  Only thing in my graveyard is Bane of the Living, so I attack T with Xiahou Dun (34).  Play Oblivion Stone and pop it to get rid of Nature's Wrath and everything else.  Yay for having answers in your hand!  Then play Swamp.
T:  Cascade Bluffs, then takes off a whole mess of counters from Dreadship Reef to cast Where Ancients Tread, then Thraximundar.  Uses WAT to hit R for 5 (26) then attacks R with Thraximundar (20).  

Round 10
R:  Casts Barbed Shocker, and hits me with it (31).  I have to discard a pretty good hand for 4 Swamps, Grim Tutor and Syphon Mind.

Barbed Shocker
What the hell?!?

Note on how to hose control:  Make them discard their hand.  Cards like Barbed Shocker and Incendiary Command can screw with control players, mainly because the discard isn't expected most of the time from a deck that isn't black.  The control player gets lulled into a sense off security knowing that their hand is safe.  Then there's a Shocker headed their way, and they lose all those cards they thought they had all the time in the world to cast.  Although they will get to draw a new hand, I know I felt a little hosed at this point.

Me:  Draw Seizan, Perverter of Truth.  Cast Syphon Mind, making T discard Duplicant and R discard Lightning Reaver, and I draw Promise of Power and another Swamp.  Cast Grim Tutor (28) for Cabal Coffers, and play it.  I then cast Promise of Power (23), entwined, giving me an 11/11 demon, and drawing Deserted Temple, Volrath's Stronghold, Solemn Simulacrum, Forcefield and Necropotence.  At the end of my turn, I discard the 4 Swamps.  Probably shouldn’t have entwined it, but oh well.

T:  Plays Graven Cairns, attacks me with Thraximundar.  I sac my demon and take 7 (16).  T then casts Phyrexian Arena and Mind's Eye.  He has one card left in hand, so this should help him a bunch.

Round 11
R:  T draws a card from R’s draw.  R plays Vivid Creek, then Debtors' Knell, then attacks T with Barbed Shocker (32), making him discard Oblivion Ring and Vesuva.
Me:  Draw Diamond Valley, and T draws as well.  I’m worried about additional Commander damage from Thraximundar, who has only hit me for 7 but has me scared for some reason.  I play Deserted Temple.  Tap Coffers, untap with Temple, and tap Coffers again.  I play Solemn Simulacrum, getting another Swamp.  Play Forcefield.  Then play Maga for 10, doming T (22), leaving two mana untapped for Forcefield.

Great for reducing Commander damage.

T:  Takes 1 from Phyrexian Arena (21), plays Darkwater Catacombs and Vulshok Battlemaster, but there’s no equipment out there to steal.  Attacks R with Battlemaster and Thraximundar (10).

Round 12
R:  Uses Knell to pull my Skeletal Vampire into play.  T draws another card.  Plays a Forest, then passes.  Has 5 cards in hand, but isn't doing a whole lot.  I wonder what's going on.
Me:  Draw Swamp, and T draws another card.  Play Diamond Valley, and use it to sac Maga (26).  I then re-cast Maga for 19, hitting T (2) and attack T with Simulacrum, knocking him out.  T says he was about to cast Warp World, which would have been interesting and would have screwed me.  R makes more bats at the end of my turn.

Round 13
R:  Uses Knell to grab Helldozer, then plays Sculpting Steel targeting Forcefield.
Me:  Draw Corrupt.  R is at (10) and I have 10 swamps, so I cast it.  R has Counterspell.  I then re-sac Maga, and re-cast him for the win.

V.  Conclusion
So this is a pretty straight forward and forgiving deck.  I played this game pretty early on in the deck's creation, so I made a few mistakes, but still managed to pull of the win.  I know that there are more streamlined versions of Maga decks out there, usually going creatureless plus adding cards like The Abyss or Kuon, Ogre Ascendant.  But I just can't get rid of my dudes.  Additional tutors are always helpful as well, such as Vampiric Tutor, Beseech the Queen, Imperial Seal and Planar Portal.  Sculpting Steel can be added to copy one of your mana producing artifacts or something else cool on the table.  
This deck could probably be the basis for a good budget deck to start off with.  At the time of my writing this (April 24) on mtgotraders.com this deck comes out to $112.03, without the Swamps.  The most expensive card is Demonic Tutor, which can easily be replaced with one of the previously mentioned tutors.  Next is Nevinyrral's Disk, coming in around 8 tix, which is valuable but not entirely necessary.  Heck, you don't even need Sorin Markov.  There are a couple more cards in the 5 ticket range, but many of these have cheaper replacements, such as Plague Wind for Damnation, Nightmare for Korlash, etc.  The rest of the deck is made up of rares that are less than a ticket and some helpful commons.  Just make sure that you spend the money for the mana generators, the tutors, and the card draw.  I'm guessing you can make a budget version of this deck for 50 tix or so, maybe less.  Actually, that sounds like an idea for a new deck...
That will conclude our article.  Thanks for reading!  Until next time, when we will cover a deck using Oros, the Avenger.

Leviathan, aka Tarasco on MTGO


good stuff I've always wanted by JustSin at Thu, 04/29/2010 - 15:19
JustSin's picture

good stuff I've always wanted to put together a mono-black one, I think I'll def do it once we get Drana, good to see another list get some ideas goin

Drana will be awesome, worthy by Leviathan at Thu, 04/29/2010 - 16:19
Leviathan's picture

Drana will be awesome, worthy of her own deck or you can fit her in here.

Also, the game has a slightly older version of the deck that included Mirari. I figured out after that I forgot the Magus, so I took out Mirari for Magus.

Plague Wind is NOT a good by Paul Leicht at Thu, 04/29/2010 - 18:09
Paul Leicht's picture

Plague Wind is NOT a good replacement for Damnation. Decree of Pain is. Barely. That is the real problem with this format. It is still nearly as degenerate as it's twin 100s. To be competitive (not just for fun) you have to be well carded. Whether this means having a deep collection from time/effort or just deep pockets it boils down to being a format that isn't for everyone. Which is funny because it is one of the two formats chosen for the CCC. And the CC accounts all have 4x each card so making broken Commander decks should be relatively easy.

Interesting game, Maga is a commander that makes me automatically gun for that player. It is just that broken. A cheesier general is hard to find. (Not impossible mind you.) I don't blame the player who quit (by not responding which is bad etiquette and dumb) for feeling out of sorts over the hosers. Hosers are a strategy that is definitely double edged in friendly games. On the one hand "I don't like x. Don't play with it." On the other "I will play whatever it takes to win."

I played with Mind Slaver in a recent game and was told that it was strictly taboo. Not because it isn't answerable but because people feel it is unfair. Ok...Won't be bringing that card to any more games. But honestly it's function in that game was to stop me from being killed. And it worked. The fact that I had the ability to continually recur it and make everyone else miserable was really besides the point. In response to that comment though I mirror golemed (off a spitting image) it out of the game.

Also you forgot 'Cynicism' on your list of black mana attributes. "You all really just want to kill me, so I'll kill all you first."

goes back to the definition by JustSin at Thu, 04/29/2010 - 18:49
JustSin's picture

goes back to the definition of casual, everyone has their own version of what's "fair".. I played one game where a guy had a storm combo win on turn 3.. I've seen a number of combo - "you win" strategies

the best way I've found to deal with this is everyone ejects that player... congrats you won, but we want to continue our game and not have this as a waste of time, having to start over.. win win imo everyone admits you won, and then continues to play for second

Well, I didn't say it was a by Leviathan at Thu, 04/29/2010 - 18:55
Leviathan's picture

Well, I didn't say it was a "good" replacement, just a replacement. You are correct, it is very helpful to have some money cards in order to slay most of the opposition. But I think it's possible to run some more budget stuff and still do ok. It just takes more time and tuning with your deck. Like I said, at some point in the future I may run a budget version of this deck out there and bring back a report, but it won't be anytime soon.

I completely understand that Maga is pretty hated. That's why I led in with the intro that I did. However, you could easily change the general here to Drana, and get similar results. And cynicism definitely works as well.

The Mind Slaver thing... That gets into a whole other discussion about the nature of casual, what should be played and what shouldn't. I think you should be prepared for anything, but I don't play certain combos. I have another article coming up that talks a little about this kind of stuff. I was running into a player that looked to continually look out everyone by turn 5 or 6, so I just adjusted my deck when I thought I'd run into them. Since these are basically just pick-up games where you won't really know who you are playing with, you gotta be prepared. And if that means you want to play Mind Slaver, so be it. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, and if people quit, that's their prerogative. Now, recurring it every turn...

@Justin too, the whole fun by Paul Leicht at Thu, 04/29/2010 - 20:13
Paul Leicht's picture

@Just Sin too, the whole fun thing is precisely why Maga gets hate. It isn't fun to lose to that card. Ever. I understand bringing it, for the same reason I understand bringing Mind Slaver but it is clearly not a fun card for lots of people. Just as Slaver is not (hence the reason I brought that incident up.)

I am not prepared to say I won't play someone who plays combo but if I know someone is playing a 3 turn kill deck I am pretty much likely to tell them if they do that in MY game I may feel obliged to block them and or disinvite them with prejudice.

People who play to make everyone miserable aren't playing to have fun. They are playing to have fun at other people's expense. Playing to win because there are prizes on the line is a type of mentality that people get into and then have trouble slipping out of. Really who DOESN'T want to win? Only the very dedicated and disciplined usually forgo that pleasure just to accommodate their fellows. But there is a lot of room between MUST WIN at all costs and I will do my best to win without being ridiculous (3 turn storm is ridiculous as a commander deck. It completely violates the spirit of the format.)

That said I think casual/not casual can easily be determined in any small group by asking the individuals in question. I happily enjoy playing mass destruction spells (I love to see things go boom) but I curb my enthusiasm for that until I know how cut throat and serious the group is. Some people don't care, others feel Armageddon resolving = gg.

In larger groups or in pick up game situations you may have to be flexible. Getting to know the likely suspects and what they are inclined to bring helps with that.

Funnily enough, the Reaper by Leviathan at Fri, 04/30/2010 - 00:20
Leviathan's picture

Funnily enough, the Reaper king player complimented my deck, and said that he had fun in the game. Not trying to antagonize you, just pointing out that it takes all kinds.

Not feeling antagonized lol. by Paul Leicht at Fri, 04/30/2010 - 02:15
Paul Leicht's picture

Not feeling antagonized lol. I am not surprised the guy who ran hosers and felt THOSE were ok felt your Maga deck was groovy. I believe that is because the dividing line in casual comes down to several types of players. The spikier a player is, usually the less objections they have to anything. Johnny Spikes may be the most accomodating though, having admiration for true innovation even when it hoses them. Timmy Spikes Might be the most sensitive to game hosers, and have the most rigid rules (internal to them) for fair play. I know I am somewhere in between, and a lot of my feeling for a game has to do with mood and how much foreknowledge I have. Going in against Maga, I may admire the deck even while disliking the fact that I have to play against it.

Going in against combo however tends to cause me to not want to play at all because I got my fill of engines back in the day with Zvi and SteveOMS (Both awesome engine players) and others at NG in 50 player chaos. To me all of the 'Johnnyness' of modern combo tends to be backseat to getting the turn 1 win (in normal formats) or as close to it as you can. And really I could care less if it just boils down to a coin flip in the meta. Skill tests are something else. Everyone going in knows the stakes and the odds.

One of my favorite combos in old standard was Swans, even though it was relatively hard to stop once it got going, just because of the beauty of the idea, but most combo is ugly and fairly straight forward (ProsBloom I look at thee...)

And yes indeed it takes all kinds. Which is why when in a communal pool it is not OK to just be the shark without regard for those who are less inured to that style. Well that is my take on things. Maga at least tells people straight up. "I am going to be killing you as fast as possible. Kill me before I get you. NO holds are barred."

vermin man he is called. by abdallah at Thu, 04/29/2010 - 20:45
abdallah's picture

vermin man he is called. Hey, buddy, got a light?