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Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor in Commander


Have you ever found a new legendary creature to build a Commander deck around, and ended up realizing that the card is more fit to be in the 99 of a deck than the command zone?

I don't yet know if that's what happened to me this past week, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that I got a little too excited about what's really better cast a support character in an EDH deck. He's got leading man potential, but he's no Sir Konrad, the Grim or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. He is Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor, a mono-Black zombie advisor from the new Fallout set.

Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor

This Zombie Mutant Advisor has undying and a really intriguing ability. Each other creature I control that is a Zombie or a Mutant will get +X/+X where X is the number of counters on Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor. Undying will only work once, but it is a way to put a +1/+1 counter on him. As soon as he has even a single +1/+1 counter, his undying ability won't bring him back if he dies.

I had never really explored the world of +1/+1 counters in mono-Black before this build. I'm very familiar with cards like Increasing Savagery and Cathars' Crusade, and I just assumed there would be fun and interesting surprises to find in the world of mono-Black counters. There is plenty of zombie support in mono-Black, so I figured Wizards of the Coast wouldn't trot out a mono-Black "counters matter" legendary creature without some counter support in the color.

As it turns out, I figured wrong. At least, I think I'm wrong.

By the time I realized my dream of an interesting Hancock counters build would be a rough brew, I was already committed to the idea, or at least to writing this column. I am firmly of the belief that you can build and have fun with ANY novel, crazy, or even lame idea in EDH, so long as you are playing at the appropriate power level. Today's Hancock list might be a low-to-mid powered affair, but it could still be an odd and interesting mono-Black deck that is worth building and playing if you like to play at that power level.

Counter Support

While I wasn't excited about the number of +1/+1 and other counter sources in mono-Black, that doesn't mean there weren't any cards to pull into this list. Some of them might even turn out to be quite strong.

Blood Curdle
Astarion's Thirst
Unexpected Fangs

It's no real surprise that counter sources in mono-Black often come attached to removal spells. Blood Curdle is an overcosted four mana Black instant that will destroy target creature and put a menace counter on a creature I control. That menace counter might not pump up Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor, but it will give every one of my Zombies +1/+1.

Astarion's Thirst is a fantastic removal spell in mono-Black. It will exile target creature and put X +1/+1 counters on a commander creature I control, where X is the power of the creature exiled. With Hancock, that X will also give my Zombies a power boost. I'm able to exile a creature with a high enough power, I could easily be set up for an alpha strike.

Unexpected Fangs may not be removal, but it will put a +1/+1 counter and a lifelink counter on target creature. That might not seem like a big deal, but two mana to pump all of my zombies by +2/+2 makes it a pretty sweet combat trick.

Feast on the Fallen
PIP-Boy 3000
Anduril, Narsil Reforged

Feast on the Fallen is a three-mana enchantment that will check on each upkeep and if an opponent lost life, I'll be able to put a +1/+1 counter on target creature I control. That might not amount to much on a single turn cycle, but in a long game in this multiplayer format it could really help a lot.

Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor is from the Fallout expansion set, so it's fitting to include at least one knickknack from our post-apocalyptic future. T-45 Power Armor almost made the cut, but it has a drawback of not allowing the equipped creature to untap unless you pay an energy counter. This isn't an energy deck so I decided to go with the handy dandy PIP-Boy 3000. It has a bunch of abilities, but for Hancock I care that it lets me put a +1/+1 counter on equipped creature when I attack, much like Armory of Iroas, which is also in the list.

If I'm willing to mix IPs, I might as well throw a Lord of the Rings card into the mix. Anduril, Narsil Reforged, is a legendary sword that can give me the city's blessing, and when I attack I'll either put one +1/+1 counter on equipped creature, or I'll put two if I have the city's blessing. You get that by controlling 10 or more permanents, which isn't hard to do when you're playing Commander.

I've got a few additional ways to put +1/+1 counters on Hancock. Creatures like Spinal Centipede and Lawless Broker put a +1/+1 counter on target creature I control when they die, and pairing them with instants like Altar's Reap or Village Rites will turn an extra cost of sacrificing a creature to draw two cards into a bonus. I don't love depending upon this type of synergy, and I'm tempted to drop a bunch of those cards out to just add more zombies. I generally like to play a deck to get a feel for what to add, but one thing I know is that I'm definitely going to want...


This first draft saw me loading up on Zombie lords and token generators, but the need to devote card slots to my +1/+1 counter theme left less space for endless ranks of the dead. I am, of course, still playing Endless Ranks of the Dead, along with Army of the Damned, Grave Titan and a bunch of other Zombie cards.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet may be a Vampire Warrior but it's happy to help me build a zombie army. If a nontoken creature an opponent controls would die, instead it will get exiled and I'll create a 2/2 Black Zombie creature token. Not to be outdone, Ghoulcaller Gisa taps for a Black mana to sacrifice another creature and create X 2/2 Black Zombie creature tokens where X is the sacrificed creature's power. Josu Vess, Lich Knight is a Zombie Knight, and when he enters the battlefield if he was kicked I'll create eight 2/2 Black Zombie Knight creature tokens with menace.

Cemetery Reaper
Liliana's Reaver

One my best zombie "lords" is Cemetery Reaper. This zombie gives my other zombie creatures +1/+1 and I can pay two and a Black, tap it and exile target creature card from a graveyard to create a 2/2 Black zombie creature token. Cryptbreaker will let me pay one and a Black, tap it and discard a card to make a zombie token. It makes up for that discard by letting me tap three untapped zombies to draw a card and lose a life. Liliana's Reaver ties its token generation with combat damage, but it has deathtouch so it's less likely to be blocked. When it deals combat damage to a player that player discards a card and I'll create a tapped zombie token.

A Zombie Jamboree

This deck's dream scenario will probably involve making a bunch of zombies, putting a ton of counters on Hancock, and then swinging for a boatload of damage. I'm running Army of the Damned, which will make thirteen 2/2 Black Zombie creature tokens and Astarion's Thirst could exile some gigantic creature. The pieces are all in here to do crazy things, but my gut sense is that it's just a little too convoluted to have the kind of consistency you want to push up into higher powered play.

You could swap your swamps for snow-covered swamps and throw in an Extraplanar Lens. Adding fast mana, low mana value tutors, and some alternate wincons would make this list more consistent and powerful, but you might find yourself asking why you aren't running someone else in the command zone. I think Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor, is a neat card but you're not building Hancock if you're looking for more than a fun time with a casual mono-Black zombie deck with an odd twist to it.

I brewed up this list with a focus on zombies, on +1/+1 counters and on card draw that would have you sacrifice a creature. That last piece of the puzzle was meant to take advantage of creatures that put a +1/+1 counter on target creature when it dies, but the list might be better with a stronger focus on zombies. I tend to get a little too cute sometimes, but there's no reason this couldn't work. I am running Gravecrawler, which can be cast from the graveyard if I control a Zombie. Adding a few more recurrable zombies might make sense for this list.

Paths Not Taken

Where I think Hancock will really shine is not as a commander but in a deck that has access to more colors. Skullbriar, the Walking Grave would put you in Black and green, but you'd probably want to put counters on him instead of on Hancock, as Skullbriar is usually built as a voltron deck. What we want is a commander that works well with what Hancock brings to the party.

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
The Scarab God
Kenrith, the Returned King

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant would give you access to green, Black and Blue, so you'd both have counter support and access to counterspells. Increasing Savagery, Hydra's Growth, and Forgotten Ancient are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways to load Hancock up with +1/+1 counters. You'd want to really dive into the Zombie theme, but that's not a problem for Sidisi. He's pretty good at building up a zombie army all on his own.

The Scarab God rewards you for building an army of undead and has an activated ability that can bring Hancock back from the grave as a token. That's pretty convenient if you are trying to focus your deck on a card in the 99.

If you wanted to build a five-color Zombie deck, Kenrith, the Returned King gives you both a way to put +1/+1 counters on target creature and a way to bring a creature back from the graveyard. You could run all the best staples but you'd risk slipping into 5/c goodstuff territory if you didn't load up the deck with enough zombie support.

Final Thoughts

I realized after writing this column that I didn't touch upon one strategy that you might use to put a ton of +1/+1 counters on Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor. The reason I didn't is because it's combo. You could run Nim Deathmantle combo or any other combo that lets you recur and sacrifice a creature an arbitrary number of times to do a death-loop with a creature that puts +1/+1 counters on a creature when it dies.

It's a legit plan, but to me it feels like a square peg and a round hole. This column isn't expecting to play a high-powered game and it didn't feel to me like a Nim Deathmantle loop to build up Hancock with +1/+1 counters made a lot of sense. I think once you start going down that road you'll be killing the table with Marionette Master or some other wincon instead of doing stuff with Hancock. Still, if combo is your jam and you want to build Hancock, it's a legit plan.

I didn't have a chance to play this list online, but I do think Hancock could be a very fun piece to a more complicated Zombie deck, either in Black or in Golgari or Sultai colors. If you buy the Mutant Menace precon or just find yourself with a copy of Hancock, definitely consider building a deck with him as a focal point. I think he has a ton of potential, even if I'm more convinced than ever that he's better in the 99 than in the command zone.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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