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Around the Wheel: Syr Konrad, the Grim


Here we go again. Anyone who's read more than a couple of my columns knows I love my Mono-Black decks. Seriously. I love them a lot. So as I begin my journey around the wheel again, I knew I wanted to do something a bit different, but also something that draws on everything I love about the playstyle. It's grindy. It's mean. It uses life as additional costs. And it doesn't let anyone have any creatures. I love it.

So when our general was spoiled, I knew it was perfect timing. Here's a big dude at a reasonable cost with an interesting ability that plays into mono-{B}'s strength without being the same old thing we've done before. Let's take a gander, shall we?

Syr Konrad, the Grim

5/4 for 3bb seems good enough. Whenever a creature goes to the graveyard from the battlefield, Syr Konrad deals one damage to each opponent. Okay, that's way better than Blood Artist. It doesn't have the lifegain of Zulaport Cutthroat, but this is any creature, not just ones we control. And more, whenever a creature goes to the graveyard from anywhere. And whenever a creature leaves our graveyard! So if anyone discards a creature, mills a creature, or has a creature killed, all our opponents take one. Then if we exile our creatures from our own graveyard, they each take one for each departed creature. Who would ever have ever figured Bojuka Bog could be a win condition? And we can pay 1b and everyone mills a card!?

Okay, I know. In the world of Commander, a world of Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire and Kess, Dissident Mage, this guy doesn't do a ton. How much is one life, really, when each of our opponents has 40 to spare? But this guy is everything we want in a Black commander. He needs mana. Okay, Black can make huge mana. He wants creatures to go to the graveyard. Great! Black is great at sacrificing and recurring its own stuff, plus it's awesome at killing everyone else's stuff. And it wants to do it a lot. No problem! Black draws cards really well (no one beats Blue at that, of course, but we don't need to be that good). We have a relatively unassuming ability on a potentially lethal commander.

This means we get to play to Black's strengths but not necessarily do the same old thing. We're going to make big mana. We're going to kill all the creatures. And we're going to play a grindy, long game where it always seems like we're on the brink of losing, both to us and our opponents. But rather than just casting a massive Exsanguinate (yawn), we're going to turn our opponents' own libraries against them. If they complain, tell them to run fewer creatures.

It all starts with the mana. We need to make huge mana. It's nice that the world is past Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers. Of course, we're going to run that combo, but we've also got Cabal Stronghold (not as good, but still really good) and Crypt of Agadeem, which sometimes isn't great but because we could wind up with several creatures in our 'yard, it's worth it here. We're also running Expedition Map so we can get one of these lands to help move things along. But that's not all! We've got Crypt Ghast. We've got Magus of the Coffers. And we've got Nirkana Revenant. With this deck, it will not be unusual to say things like "I've got 15 mana in my pool" and still have untapped lands. Plus we're running Geier Reach Sanitarium because we want people to be discarding stuff and filling their Graveyards with creatures, and Bojuka Bog, though the theory there is to target ourselves and win the game all of a sudden.

For drawing, we have a bunch of riffs on the Sign in Blood theme. Basically, we pay two or three mana, probably two life, and we get to draw two cards. Sometimes we have to sacrifice a creature. Occasionally we get a creature with Vulturous Aven. Damnable Pact is a way to use a bunch of mana if our hand has emptied, and we can use it to kill someone who is having trouble dropping below 1 life. Plus we've got Disciple of Bolas, who gives us life back instead of costing us, which is nice, and can refill our hand, depending on what we sacrifice.

We want to win with Syr Konrad's ability, so the goal is to put creatures in graveyards. We've got a bunch of things that do that, like Exploit creatures and Fleshbag Marauder and friends. We're probably too slow to not play out anything and try and do it all through milling, so the idea is to play things and not really care if they die in the service of protecting us. We're not going to attack, and if our dudes die, they just hurt our opponents, so play things out, let a board state happen, and block aggressively. Meanwhile, keep the board relatively clear with Slum Reaper and Archfiend of Depravity. We need to stay alive long enough to get to where we can win with a rather large effect, so keeping board states small and continuing to ping for damage will matter here. And the large effect is something like reaching 40 mana and milling everyone for 20. That'll do a lot of damage because a bunch of creatures will get turned over no matter what. Follow up with a Bojuka Bog on ourselves to do the rest, or just cast Torment of Hailfire next turn. Whatever.

Black answers creatures well, so we're going to do that. If you play in a meta with lots of artifact and enchantment decks, feel free to swap out something like Deadly Tempest or Decree of Pain with Oblivion Stone or Perilous Vault. However, if you think you can hold on without interacting with anything but creatures, the Wrath of God-style effects are some of the best for what we're doing. Life's Finale is like an extra dig because we can dump three creature cards and ping for three more. Deadly Tempest can surprise a lot of players and is truly deadly to token players in Commander. Decree of Pain is so good it's sometimes worth casting at a deficit just because of the cards drawn.

Finally we've got Grave Pact, Dictate of Erebos, and Butcher of Malakir, all to keep the creature count on the board low and ping opponents. We've also got a few ways to sacrifice our creatures, because occasionally someone kills a Hangarback Walker and leaves behind 12 little dudes or we get off a massive Dread Summons and have a ton of Zombies. Sacrificing all those guys can do a lot of damage.

Before we look at the decklist, one final note about decks like this. Opponents tend to whine when you don't let them have their stuff. However, they also notice that you're not letting them have their stuff, and will stop doing whatever is hurting them. It's unlikely we'll have a board presence big enough to truly threaten in the red zone, but if we've got Phyrexian Reclamation, Grave Pact, and Dictate of Erebos out with Fleshbag Marauder looping from our 'yard to our 'field, they're just not going to play any creatures. They're going to draw and hope someone figures out a way to take care of this nonsense. That means we've got to finish the game ourselves somehow, and that's where the big mana comes in; we can use that to mill for a bunch and do a lot of damage all at once, winning the game decisively.

Oh! Mindcrank. Take a look. Mindcrank mills opponents whenever they lose life. Damage causes loss of life, and Syr Konrad does damage each time a creature is milled. So while it probably won't go infinite, it can get close with a creature-heavy deck. We pay 14 and mill seven from everyone. In that 28 cards total (seven from each of four players' decks) there are nine creatures. Everyone but us takes nine damage. So with Mindcrank out, they each mill nine more cards. Out of that 27, let's say there are six creatures. They each take six, then mill six more each. Out of that 18, there are four creatures... and on and on. You may notice there are no tutors like Demonic Tutor or Diabolic Tutor (or Demonic Collusion or Dark Petition or Diabolic Intent or Increasing Ambition or Mastermind's Acquisition or Razaketh's Rite or Rune-Scarred Demon or Sidisi, Undead Vizier). This is because - ahem - "tutoring for Mindcrank would be rude and mean and all number of nasty things." So don't run tutors if you don't like to win - I mean, want to keep your friends. (Seriously, though, tutoring for Mindcrank will end the game in rather quick and unfun fashion. I think the deck will be more fun and exciting if Mindcrank is the occasional surprise, but it's your group and your deck.)

Liliana's Indignation almost made the cut, but it targets. Of course, it'd be absurd if it didn't, so there's that. It's also possible the deck wants a couple of ways to protect Syr Konrad. As the game develops, we'll get to five mana and play him out, then suddenly find ourselves with 12 creatures on the battlefield, and a bunch controlled by our opponents. A good old Wrath at that point will do a ton of damage, but it'd be nice if good Syr Konrad didn't need to go with the rest, so making him indestructible or flickering him out somehow might be worth trying to get into the deck. Morality Shift would be kind of hilarious, kind of a self-Traumatize that would put whatever creatures remain in our library straight into our graveyard. If it targeted, it would have been in. Finally, Ayara, First of Locthwain, is another new creature from Throne of Eldraine, and should probably be tested in the 99. There might be a Zombie/Devotion deck or something in her, but we've got so many things entering the battlefield she could be worth having around. Fragile, though.

Also remember that tokens do touch the graveyard when they die, so we'll get his trigger from tokens dying. Cycling Decree of Pain the turn after a Goblin player went nuts could be quite the coup.

If not for Syr Konrad, I think Anowon, the Ruin Sage would have been my choice for this week. Vampires are cool, much stronger than just a few years ago, and it's yet another deck where we make it very difficult for our opponents to have creatures, which I think is a riot. I'm glad Syr Konrad was spoiled, though.

What would you do differently? Would you include a tutor for Mindcrank? Any thoughts on Ayara? How would you beat a deck like this? Let us know in the comments!

Mono-Red next. Thanks for reading.

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