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Regulating Recursion

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"I need more graveyard removal."

I hear this lament after every second Commander game I play. This isn't a complaint, this is a statement as to just how much recursion Commander players are using! This isn't even just the players with Black decks, churning value out of their decks. This is everyone. Virtually every color has some way to get value out of their graveyards.

So, much like enchantment and artifact removal, we should be running more, right? Well so much of that depends on your meta, but perhaps not in the way you are thinking. If your meta is one where everyone is building new decks and always tweaking the ones they have, you have the opportunity to play a dangerous game: let others handle the problem.

Quite often, what is happening with graveyards involves recurring value. The player isn't necessarily targeting anyone, but instead is just getting extra value. Everyone is losing life. Everyone is discarding a card. Your opponent is gaining life. Your opponent is drawing a card. When someone is doing something that is hurting only you, your other opponents aren't likely to help you out. In those situations, you are going to have to help yourself. With an opponent getting value from recursion though, they are getting stronger or hurting everyone, so you are always hoping someone else will deal with the problem.

This opens up a handful of slots in your deck for other things. You can choose more enchantment removal, card draw, or my personal favorite, add more cards to your deck's theme! This is a dangerous game though, so take this advice with a grain of salt.

Another option that goes in completely the opposite direction is the deck I'm about to show you. The deck looks at what is happening in the meta and drives a knife right through it. Say hello to Kalitas, Graveyard Killer!


Let's just start with the most obvious part: Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Kalitas has a lot of words, but for right now, let's cut to the chase. "If a nontoken creature an opponent controls would die, instead exile that card..." This means no more creatures bouncing back to the battlefield from the graveyard since creatures won't even be in the graveyard! Kalitas is a nightmare for so many decks. A quick search finds over 100 legendary creatures are doing stuff with the graveyard, and most of those become lame vanilla creatures when Kalitas is out. Aristocrat builds hate Kalitas. Jund decks hate Kalitas. The Ghet hate Kalitas!

Given all this hate, you can expect opponents to do everything they can to get rid of Kalitas. This is when we look at the rest of the card and discover all the resilience Kalitas brings. A four-mana commander is handy, as you'll be able to recast it at least a couple of times from the command zone. He has 4 toughness so direct damage needs to work a little harder to get rid of him. Add on that last ability and you can see his toughness get up to numbers where direct damage just isn't going to cut it. Whenever one of your opponent's creatures dies, you also get a 2/2 zombie so he brings a small army to make things even tougher on your opponents, and just a little more difficult to get him off the battlefield. Finally, the lifelink is nothing to laugh at either. While I rarely pump Kalitas to anything more than a 5/6 creature, gaining the five life is very handy!

After a few games with the deck, I realized that even with the built-in resiliency, I needed something more. Boots and Greaves were a good start, but I added the Champion's Helm, a Darksteel Plate, and the Sword of Light and Shadow as protection. Since most of the targeted removal I was facing was either White or Black, the Sword just made sense. It also gives me a little recursion, which is a fun way to rub salt in the wounds of your opponents since Kalitas prevents your opponents' creatures from dying, but not yours!

The next part of the deck could also be considered part of the protection package. Butcher of Malakir and Dictate of Erebos act as a strong deterrent to taking out Kalitas. When someone threatens to remove Kalitas, I like to respond with Pestilence or another way to kill off one or more of their creatures. When their creature or creatures die, Kalitas gives me Zombie tokens. Then you Pestilence again and suddenly everyone is sacrificing creatures because I have lost tokens. And all those sacrificed creatures give me more tokens, and all their sacrificed creatures are exiled. Then Kalitas goes to the Command Zone where I can play him out again right away!

While that is fun, the real purpose of Dictate and the entire removal package is to open up a path for Kalitas and his Zombie army to charge at an opponent unabated. The deck has a significant token theme, with most of them being Zombie tokens, so I've played that up a bit as well with a few lords just be make the Zombies hurt a little more when they hit.

The deck also runs a small extort theme, since there are a few cards that really push on my life totals, as well as a few opponents who aren't going to be happy about what is happening either. Admittedly, the extort theme is there primarily because I thought Pontiff of Blight was an amazing card and just needed to be in a deck somewhere, and an all-Black deck just made sense! It turned into a nice addition as it offers extra without really costing me deck slots.

The mana curve of the deck is pretty high considering the current climate of decks trying to get lower and lower casting costs, but I don't mind. My ramp package has proven up to the task. With 40 lands as the base, I can really pile on. Black Market and Carnival of Souls provide a LOT of mana with a deck that thrives on seeing creatures die and enter the battlefield. Crypt Ghast with 33 basic lands means I don't even need to run Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to help it along. Liliana of the Dark Realms is a little suspect, but it is rarely targeted since opponents don't seem concerned about me getting another Swamp in my hand.

Given what the deck is trying to do, there are several big flyers that can add some punch when the Zombies on the ground just aren't cutting it. Of these, my pet card is Spirit of the Night. It costs nine (!) mana and I really don't have a reliable way to cheat it onto the battlefield. However a 6/5 flying, trample, protection from Black, first strike, hasty creature is just a ton of fun!

The overcosted flyers continue with Abhorrent Overlord! Paying 7 mana for a 6/6 flyer is tough but given that the devotion in this deck often nets me six to ten 1/1 black Harpy creature tokens with flying is not to be denied!

Army of the Damned and Endless Ranks of the Dead have both proven their use in past games. I was initially reluctant to add in Army of the Damned but I figured I would give it a shot since, hey, 13 Zombies! Not only have I been able to cast it, but the flashback has been something my opponents have had to deal with as well. Endless Ranks of the Dead was no surprise at all. I expected it to provide a handful of Zombies each upkeep and with Kalitas out there, it regularly does that.

The astute among you have probably noticed just how old this deck is. I believe this deck has not seen an update since Theros block! Not surprisingly, there are a few cards that need to make their way into the deck. At the top of my list is Revel in Riches. It is virtually made for the deck. While getting Treasure that can make colored mana other than Black is no helpful, the deck is a real mana hog and Revel in Riches certainly brings that! Ayara, First of Locthwain is another great addition! When Kalitas' Zombie tokens start showing up, opponents get the added bonus of losing a life while my life total climbs. Ayara also lets me sacrifice a spare Zombie to draw a card, so she is helpful in more ways than one! Finally, I'd like to add Yahenni, Undying Partisan. My opponents' creatures will already be dying so Yahenni could get very big, very fast. Add in the free sacrifice outlet and this is another creature that could easily be a star!

The deck is pretty flexible and could be stretched in one direction or the other. If you are looking to build this way, I recommend taking my build as a suggestion and focusing it however you want. This deck certainly isn't optimized, but it has been a great reminder to many of my opponents that recurring cards from their graveyard is not guaranteed!

Bruce

@manaburned