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Being Nefarious Isn't Enough

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Guilds of Ravnica is coming out, soon.

That's not a great first sentence to an article, I get it, but I have been stuck on the first sentence for ten minutes, which is a thing that happens sometimes and I can either wait for the perfect sentence to occur to me or I can power through it, apologize and let you know that I can't afford to be patient because I cannot wait to share this deck with you. I am going to have to wait until the next set to see the Simic commander I'm going to fall in love with, build, then take apart because it's too good and consistent and it's no fun to play (R.I.P. Tatyova 2018-2018) but this first set is giving me commanders in color combinations I don't normally play that I just might make an exception for. The ink isn't even dry on my Marton Stromgald tribal Brudiclad deck and already I found the next deck I'm going to build.

Lazav is back! He lost the Hexproof but he went even deeper on his ability to impersonate the dead and buried which can really lead to some dirty shenanigans. Right away, all of the cards I thought about pairing him with were artifacts - Phyrexian Dreadnought, Metalworker (and his best friend Pili-Pala), Heartstone, Blightsteel Colossus, etc. However, once I started thinking about Dimir-colored cards, I realized he would be fun with Phage the Untouchable. I also realized that this was in some ways a bad Mairsil, the Pretender. It wasn't until I thought about it some more that I realized it was sometimes a better Mairsil, which is going to be a lot of fun if we can get our yard stacked properly. Mairsil was kind of fun to play, but I soon realized the "perfect" Mairsil stack was Tree of Perdition and Hateflayer and got bored with the deck. I liked the idea of a creature with 10 abilities that could really muck it up and take on 3 players at once, but the deck felt "solved" to me and never really ended up being the "toolbox" commander I wanted. So how will Lazav be better considering he only gets one ability at a time? I think the ability to switch back and forth at will can be an asset as well as a liability.

Mairsil took some work to get going and without Quicksilver Elemental to mitigate the one use per turn clause, it was slow and lumbering. Lazav has the potential to nimbly jump between creatures at instant speed and back again. You can tap as Metalworker, untap as Pili-Pala and tap as Metalworker again. You can attack as Invisible Stalker and hit them as Phage. You can attack as Phyrexian Dreadnought and hit them as… well, you can hit them as Phyrexian Dreadnought, too. That's 2 swings and then they're dead to commander damage. Blightsteel can do it in one, although that's their fault for letting you get to 12 mana. Or do we need to get to 12? If only there were some sort of.. Grounds where Lazav could go for… Training. We can use Metalworker for mana but also Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in the same deck. We'll have mana for days - we can even turn Lazav into Magus of the Coffers if we want. It's going to be a challenge to net enough mana to be able to flip Lazav back and forth so if we build with toolboxing in mind rather than Pili-Pala mana combos, we will have more success. So what does Lazav do that Mairsil didn't?

Combat

Whereas Mairsil sort of sat in the middle of your board and blasted people with cards like Hateflayer and Shauku, Endbringer, Lazav can attack more profitably. Being able to swing as an unblockable creature like Tetsuko Umezawa and then flip into something nasty once he's unblocked, Lazav is going to be an even more flavorful ninja than Yuriko. And if you like unblockable creatures, do I ever have good news for you!

Etrata is a perfect inclusion in this deck. If you can't have her start the game in the command zone, we can give ourselves a 50/50 chance of having access to her when we Traumatize ourselves. Combine this with Helm of the Host and you have… the same thing I try to do with all of my decks, nevermind. We're building around Lazav here, not Etrata, but that's not to say we won't build around her someday soon.

Is there a secret key to unlock the full potential of the deck? Just like Mairsil had Quicksilver Elemental to give Mairsil all of the abilities he already had, but this time with no caveat, is there a way to make Lazav a more formidable creature that doesn't need to pay so much mana to switch between "modes"? I think I may have found it - Necrotic Ooze. Ooze isn't exactly sparkling new tech - people have used Necrotic Ooze as part of graveyard combos since the days when they were using Phyrexian Devourer's ability to make a Giant Ooze in Legacy. With Ooze either in play or with Lazav a copy of Ooze, you can make a sort of Mairsil creature that has a ton of abilities, allowing you to make crazy mana with Pili-Pala or do other sorts of shenanigans.

Finally, the question is whether we want this to be a Laboratory Maniac deck. I think if we're not actively trying to mill ourselves and have that be the one way to win, I think it's fine because we need a plan for when we Traumatize ourselves and some smart aleck decks us in the mouth with a Bojuka Bog. I think 75% need to be about doing big, dumb, inconsistent stuff and swinging for the fences because when you're inconsistent or easy to disrupt, you can be as powerful as you want, which includes Laboratory Maniac. Having a plan B is important because plan A can be sort of fragile and while we're not a combo deck, per se, we do have some cards that make us function better than others. We don't want to scoop to a Relic of Progenitus, so it helps to have a backup plan, and Lab Man helps us do that. As always with Laboratory Maniac, if you find yourself always winning with it, think about if that's what you want to be doing. I don't think running it makes the deck not 75% somehow, but it leads to a boring rut that I invented 75% deck-building to keep myself out of so functionally, you're negating the entire point of restricting yourself at all if the deck stops playing like a new deck each game. Include the Lab Man, but include him with caution.

What does our deck look like?

More like Multi"unfair"ious | Commander | Jason Alt


This deck has a lot going on. Early into brewing, I decided Metalworker wasn't going to be as good here as I wanted and I would have to rely less on generating a ton of mana with my combos. I was going to have to have more ways to make Lazav effective in combat so I decided to really load up on creatures with Shadow to make him hit early and often. A lot of the shadow creatures are discard outlets, also. Since I wasn't going to pile up my mana in fat stacks as often, I decided to cut Magus of the Coffers (feel free to put it back) and I decided to cut Blightsteel Colossus. If you wanted to approach that build, I am not sure there are artifact creatures that make good substitutes for cards like Dream Eater, Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Doom Whisperer and other new cards that I expect will be a lot of fun to test out. Doom Whisperer is so powerful I almost wanted to include cards designed for surveiling (surveilance?) like Enhanced Surveillance, Mission Briefing and Whispering Spy. I opted not to go that deep but the potential is there.

I didn't include tutors for the most part besides cards that put things in the graveyard. I realize your graveyard is your second hand, but this makes them face-up tutors, which I prefer in a 75% build. If you want more tutors, go for it, but I like a toolbox feel and I included lots of ways to self-mill and surveil so you can just make the most of what fate flips your way. If you are worried about being a Dwarven Miner and digging too greedily and too deep, you can include a few of the new cards in Guilds of Ravnica that shuffle cards back into your deck. I personally like Crucible of Worlds in a deck like this - don't mill the Crucible unless you get the Academy Ruins, I guess. Look, sometimes you're going to mill stuff, and sometimes you're going to Traumatize yourself and mill a TON - that's why we have the Lab Man plan B.

The combos here are pretty self-explanatory for the most part, but some of the shenanigans bear explanation. I dredged up some old combos from the past such as Bloodline Keeper and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born. This is a combo that you won't have the mana to make work so you'll need to employ Ooze but once it's going, you'll either have a ton of counters on Walking Ballista or the mana to put them there if you get Ashnod's Altar. You could include Blood Artist in your build, maybe, or just deck yourself with the other Altar - Altar of the Brood. You could use the classic Necrotic Ooze, Phyrexian Devourer combo to make a huge Devourer and eat one opponent alive, also. You have a lot of unblockable creatures and if you can flip Lazav into something like Phage, you can KO someone, but even hitting them with something small that makes everyone discard when it hits is worth doing. There are plenty of creatures with Shadow or unblockability I didn't include that you can look into.

Want to make Metalworker metal-work in this deck? You can cut a lot of the utility creatures, go way deeper on mill and maybe try for a myr build or something. If we had access to Red, I would most certainly have liked to do something like that, with Scrap Mastery to empty our yard onto the field if we dredged too many useful toys. I think doing that in the current build with Living Death makes Lazav worse, so I avoided that, but I like the idea of milling deeply, filling our board with good artifacts and keeping a few non-artifact creatures in the yard for Lazav. Without access to Red, I sort of abandoned an artifact theme. If you want to pursue it, Redlessly, good luck. I think Metalworker will do a ton of work here and you get Blightsteel Colossus shenanigans, cards like Wurmcoil Engine that get a ton of value when they die and then can be re-copied by Lazav and you have ways to untap your artifacts meaning you can untap Lazav with Voltaic Key or Unwinding Clock if he's a copy of an artifact creature. Blue gives you access to Pili-Pala's old friend, Grand Architect, and you can play Chief Engineer, too. You can include more combos than are in here such as the infinite turns combo with Time Sieve if you want. That's a radical departure from what I did here, but it could be a good time and it would look less like a "stock" list that I am sure we'll see a lot of in the coming weeks. It would look a lot like a typical Sharuum the Hegemon list in a lot of ways, but with no access to White (no big loss). If you like the idea of an artifact-based Lazav deck, hit me up in the comments and let's brew one. I'll mention it next week at the top of the new article if there is interest.

As always, keep playing the deck if it's dynamic and fun and abandon it if it gets linear and boring. Lazav can be a toolbox commander if you let him so don't be afraid to cut combo pieces for broad utility creatures. Hit me up in the comments if you're pursuing a similar build. Thanks for reading and get ready for a set review coming soon. Guilds is a deep well and there is a lot to learn by plumbing its infinite, inky depths. We'll see if we can't get started on that next week. Until next time!