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Upgrading the Undead Unleashed Commander Deck


If there's one thing I love, it's a good tribal deck. It's no secret I'm a sucker for elves as a tribe and as a deck, but it goes beyond that as well. I feel like a big part of this comes from my truly formative years in Magic being around the release of Onslaught - which happens to remain one of my favorite sets and blocks to this day. Before that, I cobbled together random decks of jank and bulk as we all do and barely bought anything during the whole Invasion block, with only a handful of purchases from the Odyssey one - many of which happened after the block was complete.

It was around this time that I started finding more friends in middle school who also played Magic. We connected through the sunset days of Pokemon's early years and into the first couple years of Yu-Gi-Oh!'s craze, only to find that many of us enjoyed Magic as well and diving back into that. This picked up right into the release of Onslaught and the sets that followed, hooking me back in hard. By this point I was old enough to find an LGS (good ol' Collector's Inn of Kenmore, NY) where I would frequent their little hole in the wall shop and the pizza place a few doors down to play Friday Night Magic and release events. It wouldn't be long until I picked up Magic Online as well, where I remember playing in the Legions prerelease hoping to get the sweet coveted Phage the Untouchable avatar.

Between all of these venues, I had more opportunities to play, and I came back at a wild time where tribes were a big, big deal. I loved playing with not just elves but also soldiers, clerics, and slivers - the latter of which was total jank but has left me with one of my favorite tales of beating up on a Goblins player with a Worship and Silver Knight. But there was one other big one I fell for: zombies.

Shepherd of Rot
Rotlung Reanimator
Gempalm Polluter

As much as I loved the wild games that could happen thanks to cards such as Wellwisher and Vile Deacon, there was something really cool about the way zombies played together. I think part of the appeal to me was my love of horror, which - as I described in my recent article talking about folk horror in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt - was something I was a fanatic of in my childhood years. I loved all things spooky and grim, which I still enjoy to this day in the form of heavy metal and horror flicks.

When I started playing with the cards, it just felt great too. It was aggressive in a different way - a way that didn't overtly scream, "I'm going to play this creature and turn it sideways!" Sure, there was a bit of that, but only insofar as your main goal was whittling away at your opponents' life total. You'd play cards like Festering Goblin and Noxious Ghoul to wear out opposing forces, utilize Shepherd of Rot and Gempalm Polluter to knock down life, and use powerhouses like Undead Warchief, Soulless One, and Rotlung Reanimator to round out the package. I loved this deck, and it's still one of my hopes that the tribe really breaks out again in other Constructed formats the way I remember it (Pauper is this close to making it happen. One of my few recorded non-Elves finishes was with Zombies a few years back even).

For now, though, there's always Commander - home to many tribal archetypes. Innistrad as a plane has always been somewhat tribal-centric, with its five main tribes being the core focus but still allowing other things to enter the mix as a general horror plane. It shouldn't be a surprise that the plane spawned many favorite zombie commanders, such as Ghoulcaller Gisa, Gisa and Geralf (is this cheating yet?), and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born - who, side-note, happens to remind me of a Disney song I grew up loving as a child. Like with Coven Counters' humans theme, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt brings some further love to zombies in the form of the Undead Unleashed deck, and I'm here to help bring some of my long-time love of the tribe to this deck!

Let's check out the initial list that comes right out of the box!

Undead Unleashed | Commander | Wizards of the Coast

WOW! To say that I like this list would be an understatement. Seeing this list was a genuine treat, as it felt like exactly the kind of deck any zombie lover can pick up and play effectively right out of the box. Many long-time staples here and some even come back for the first time in forever. Did you know that this is the first reprinting of Gravespawn Sovereign, a lord from Onslaught? It gets a simultaneous printing in The List, but this is the first real time it's getting to shine again in years!

As a stock list, it's really hard to go wrong here. At its core, you could easily get by with simply some better lands and your favorite pet zombie-themed cards. That's basically what I'm going for in my list below, but even without that, this is a great list. Everything you could want to be doing is extremely well-represented and makes for one of the best preconstructed products I've ever seen Wizards put out. Last week I talked about how much trouble I had finding a clear and clean theme for the Coven Counters deck, and it felt almost better to be playing with the secondary commander rather than the face one. Here, though, the theme is tight and you're almost certainly going to be happy playing the primary legend.

My ultimate take with this list is to buy this deck and touch it up however you want, because that's all it is at the end of the day. The core concept is here, so just pick out the zombie cards that speak most to you - as there are far too many to list - and take out the pieces you find to be somewhat middling. But it wouldn't be an upgrade article without dropping a changed list and talking about it a bit, so let's take a look here at one of those!

Undead Unleashed Revamped | Commander | Kendra Smith

The first thing I did was look at the original list and try to determine what cards felt mediocre and out of place. Cards like Eater of Hope, Ruthless Deathfang, and Overseer of the Damned are all great cards, but with how heavy the top end is here, it feels like this could be shaved down a little more. I'm also not huge on cards like Hour of Eternity and Havengul Runebinder either, because exiling cards from your own graveyard just doesn't feel all that great. It leaves you unable to re-utilize your creatures once they hit the bin, which frequently ends up feeling pretty awful. Seriously, imagine casting a Zombie Apocalypse after emptying your bin to all of these. Feels bad. Instead, I've added in a few other key zombie cards, effects that can get back your creatures more easily, and even some ways to utilize your sacrifice effects more efficiently.

There's also a handful of other changes here. Obviously, the mana base got a solid makeover, but I also gave a small touch-up to the mana rocks here. You won't hear me complain about something like Talisman of Dominance - a much-needed reprint - being here, but it bums me out that we couldn't get Dimir Signet. That card also needs a little more love and instead we got Charcoal Diamond and Sky Diamond. They're fine, but I think we can do a little better. The mana base itself should be fairly self-explanatory at this point with all the usual suspects and I don't want to be too much of a broken record on them in these upgrade articles going forward. That said, I'll still cover some of the more unique lands of the bunch.

Lord of the Undead
Dimir Signet
Unholy Grotto

Phyrexian Tower quickly comes to mind as a powerful way to sacrifice creatures and ramp yourself up that much faster in the process. Your typical tribal cards are here, like Unclaimed Territory, Path of Ancestry, and - if you have the money - Cavern of Souls, but zombies in particular get a little extra love from Onslaught's Unholy Grotto. Where most decks don't really get access to Volrath's Stronghold courtesy of the Reserved List, zombie decks get their own cheaper version of it in the form of this sweet land. Westvale Abbey, High Market, and Crypt of Agadeem all take advantage of the sacrifice theme to some degree, and Field of the Dead can effectively fill your board with sacrifice fodder.

I also tried to put a bit of my own touch here with a decent amount of love to the zombies of the past. Onslaught block had a lot of old favorites and I couldn't resist slipping in as many as I could find, provided they worked well enough of course. Rotlung Reanimator might've been great in its time, but isn't nearly as great without all of the cleric subtype support here. Still, Shepherd of Rot, Undead Warchief, and Graveborn Muse all put in tons of work. And where would I be if I didn't slip in classic zombies like Havengul Lich and Gray Merchant of Asphodel - both budget options that fit amazingly here.

But these are just my pet cards. They're the things I've loved about the tribe for many years now, yet I'm certain that most players will have their own thing they love about zombies. After all, it's easily one of Magic's most heavily represented tribes in the game, meaning there's no shortage of ways to rebuild this yourself. Regardless of how you build it, though, Undead Unleashed is an absolutely incredible launching point into the world of both zombies and Commander as a whole. Whether you play it right out of the box or look to beef it up a little, pick this deck up and give it a try at your next Commander night. It's great value and excellent to play with, and is - in my opinion - one of the best Commander releases WotC has ever produced.

Kendra Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: Kendra Smith

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