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Sowing Dread with Grismold


Heart of the Andes by Frederic Edwin Church (1859).

Grismold, the Dreadsower by Filip Burburan.

Last week I shared my thoughts about the Sultai (ubg) "Faceless Menace" precon Commander deck. I went into a fair amount of detail looking at each of its three color legendary creatures. Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer, Rayami, First of the Fallen, and Volrath, the Shapestealer are all interesting options to lead a commander deck but I failed to give any mention to a fourth brand new legendary creature that is also found in the deck. He wasn't explored in last week's column because he's only a 2-color creature. He might not be able to lead the precon deck without replacing every Blue card in the list, but he's definitely worth looking at on his own.

Grismold, the Dreadsower

Grismold, the Dreadsower is a 3/3 legendary Troll Shaman with trample who costs 1bg to cast, putting him in Golgari (bg) colors. At the beginning of your end step, if Grismold is on the field each player creates a 1/1 Green Plant creature token. Whenever a creature token dies, you put a +1/+1 counter on Grismold.

Grismold has a tiny bit of synergy with Volrath, the Shapestealer. Volrath lets you put a -1/-1 counter on up to one target creature at the beginning of combat on your turn. That should kill a 1/1 Plant and as a result put a +1/+1 counter on Grismold. Our Troll Shaman should play well against the Populate keyword deck, as that deck will create plenty of creature tokens for us to try to kill off.

Thornbite Staff

This artifact deserves its own section in today's column, as it works particularly well with Grismold and his 1/1 Plant tokens. It's such a good fit that it seems a decent place to start.

Thornbite Staff

This tribal artifact is a piece of "Shaman equipment". It costs two mana and will cost four to equip, but it will auto-equip to a Shaman creature as it comes into play and Grismold happens to be a Shaman. The equipped creature gains the ability for you to pay two mana and tap it to deal 1 damage to target creature or player, and then whenever a creature is put into a graveyard from play, you untap the bearer of the staff.

If you have the mana available you can pay two mana to tap Grismold, kill a 1/1 token, put a +1/+1 counter on Grismold and untap him because a token creature died so you can do it again. This isn't game-breaking with Grismold, but if you can give Grismold deathtouch you can use these two cards to remove big blockers. Hopefully with the Trample keyword you'll wind up being able to swing in and do at least a little Commander damage.

We're going to run Thornbite Staff even if it won't be an instant win combo with Grismold so we should look at other creatures that it works well with.

Hell's Caretaker
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Ghoulcaller Gisa

Hell's Caretaker is a 1/1 Horror who allows you to tap it and sacrifice a creature to return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. You can only activate this ability during your upkeep, but that will let you bounce a creature back and forth a few times between the battlefield and the graveyard. Doing that to Gray Merchant of Asphodel could close out a game pretty quickly. "Gary" will enter the battlefield and have each opponent lose life equal to our devotion to Black and we'll gain that much life. We may not be a heavy Black deck but if we can get these three permanents out together we should be able to win the game.

My last Thornbite Staff creature is Ghoulcaller Gisa. She's a 3/4 Human Wizard who is legendary and will let us pay a Black mana, tap her and sacrifice another creature to put X 2/2 back Zombie creature tokens onto the battlefield where X is the sacrificed creature's power. Ghoulcaller Gisa is like Grismold in that your limit is set by how much mana you can pay.

The Sacrifice Game

If we're building a deck that will let us kill our opponents' creature tokens to put +1/+1 counters on Grismold, it makes sense for us to run cards that work with that strategy.

Butcher of Malakir
Grave Pact
Dictate of Erebos

If we can kill one of our own creatures and force each of our opponents to sacrifice a creature, that's as good if not better than just killing their creatures directly. We'll be giving them Plant creature tokens anyways, so they will probably be incentivized to send those to the bin rather than sacrificing their non-token creatures.

In a four player game, we can turn Grismold into a 4/4 by killing their creature token directly, but we might turn him into an 8/8 if we kill our own Plant token and each of our opponents decides to do the same thing. They didn't ask for the Plant and it's not particularly useful as a blocker against us because our Troll Shaman has trample.

Talking Tokens

One approach to giving our opponents creature tokens is to do it in a way that also gives us creature tokens. Not only does it come across as "fair play", it also prepares us for the possibility that those creature tokens might eventually be sent our way.

Curse of Disturbance
Elephant Resurgence
Sylvan Offering

Curse of Disturbance is an aura we will put on a player. Whenever that player is attacked, we'll create a 2/2 Black Zombie creature token. The opponent attacking that player will also get a 2/2 Black Zombie creature token. We could target ourselves, but in this case it probably makes more sense to attach this aura to one of our tablemates. Having creature tokens lying around to use as blockers isn't just good planning for us. If they die in combat defending us, Grismold will be a little bigger when it's time to send him back at them on our turn.

For a mere 1g the second card shown above is a rare sorcery from Prophecy that will have each player create a Green Elephant creature token with a power and toughness equal to the number of creature cards in their graveyard. It's not uncommon for a graveyard to be empty or at least to not have any creatures in it during the early part of the game, so most or all of those creature tokens might just die as soon as they enter the battlefield. Two mana for four or five +1/+1 counters isn't bad and if you're like me and love janky old cards, Elephant Resurgence definitely qualifies as jank.

Sylvan Offering is a sorcery that will have you pay X mana and choose an opponent. You and the opponent will each create an X/X Green Treefolk creature token. You then choose an opponent again - it can be the same person - and you each create X 1/1 Green Elf Warrior creature tokens. If you paid six mana your X would be five and you'd be putting 12 creature tokens onto the battlefield. You've still got to find a way to get those death triggers, but it's a pretty good card to set Griswold up.

Brood Monitor
Awakening Zone
Growth Spasm

Eldrazi Scions and Spawn will be a great source of creature token death triggers, as they'll also help to ramp out our bigger spells. Brood Monitor costs 4gg and will create three 1/1 colorless Eldrazi Scion creature tokens when it enters the battlefield. Each can be sacrificed for a mana, and of course will put a +1/+1 counter on Grismold. There are other creatures like this as well. Dread Drone also costs five mana (4b) and will create two Eldrazi Spawn. Kozilek's Predator costs 3g and will create two Eldrazi Spawn. Nest Invader costs 1g and will create an Eldrazi Spawn. Awakening Zone is an enchantment that will give us a 0/1 colorless Eldrazi Spawn creature token on our upkeep.

There are plenty of other sources for Eldrazi Scions and Spawn. Growth Spasm is a Rampant Growth for 2g that will also create a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn. Corpsehatch is an overcosted removal spell at sorcery speed that will destroy target nonblack creature and put two Eldrazi Spawn on the field. Essence Feed is a 5b sorcery that will cause an opponent to lose 3 life, have you gain 3 life, and will create three Eldrazi Spawn.

The ability to sacrifice these mana-generating creature tokens at instant speed gives you the potential to sacrifice them after your opponent has declared blockers but before damage. You might lose the mana that is generated, but that kind of combat trick can make a big difference if you have enough of them.

It's worth noting that you could add more sacrifice outlets and combine one with Nim Deathmantle to combo off with Brood Monitor. You'd wind up with an infinitely large Grismold and while he has trample, that doesn't necessarily win the game.

Tombstone Stairwell

This last card is perfect for this deck. Tombstone Stairwell is an old World Enchantment from Mirage. It will have each player put a 2/2 Black Zombie creature token with haste onto the battlefield for each creature card in his or her graveyard. These tokens are named Tombspawn for some reason, but the key part is that they all get destroyed at each end step or when Tombstone Stairwell leaves the battlefield.

The Tombspawn can't be regenerated, and at the right table a single turn cycle could make Grismold a lethal threat. Play this at the wrong table or if you don't happen to have much in your graveyard and you could be setting yourself up to get overrun by an army of Tombspawn. Play this card carefully and be ready to remove it yourself. You should be running enchantment removal anyways, so it shouldn't be a problem to get rid of this if too many Tombspawn are sent at you.

You can also choose to order your triggers on your upkeep so that everyone creates their Tombspawn creature tokens and then you choose to not pay your cumulative upkeep and they all die. That could easily push Grismold into lethal territory if enough players have decent sized graveyards.

The Cherry on Top

We've got a reasonable plan for how to make a bunch of tokens and a loose plan to attack with a huge trampling Grismold. Relying on winning games with Commander damage is fun but we should have some additional ways to try to close it out.

Black Market
Torment of Hailfire

Since we'll be sacrificing and killing a lot of creatures, we'll definitely want to run Black Market. This little enchantment will turn those deaths into Black mana. That mana can be put into a huge Exsanguinate or Torment of Hailfire to close out the game pretty nicely.

The Decklist

When I started out this list I had no intention of going all-in with Eldrazi Spawn and Scions, but once I got rolling I realized that for me it was the only possible outcome. It's a weird and janky strategy that uses a couple of oddball creature tokens in a way that squeezes a little more value out of them. Sacrificing your Spawn and Scions to put +1/+1 counters on Grismold can even be done at instant speed as something of a combat trick, so it's no surprise that I couldn't resist building the deck this way.

As I look through this first draft I am struck by the fact that I'm probably not running enough removal. I just dropped out Doubling Season and Primal Vigor to add in Naturalize and Krosan Grip, and I still feel like it could have more answers, but that's the eternal struggle of Commander deck-building. I never really feel like I'm running enough answers, but I also hate to drop out fun and powerful cards in favor of more "responsible" choices.

Final Thoughts

I went from thinking that Grismold was a useless distraction that would get pulled out of my 2019 "Faceless Menace" precon deck and live in my binder right next to my copy of Slimefoot, the Stowaway. Now I'm genuinely excited to build a deck around this quirky Troll Shaman. It isn't going to be a powerful deck, but if the deck gets rolling it should be fun to play and might even win a few games along the way.

I'm particularly excited to have a way to turn some janky cards - specifically the cards that create Eldrazi Spawn and Scions - and turn them into something that synergizes with my commander and with what the deck is trying to do. I might not be the best deck-builder out there but I love when I feel like I've found a clever angle to building around a Commander that others might not have come across yet.

That's all I've got for today. If you're thinking of building Grismold, please share your thoughts. Are there auto-includes or combos that I've missed? Have I sold you on the idea of running Spawn and Scion generators? Inquiring minds (mine) want to know!

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