Deckbuilding – Many Happy Returns from Kraum and Tormod!

woman in red long sleeve shirt and blue denim jeans carrying baby in white jacket

Hey Commander players! Happy Boxing Day! Did you get some cards as a holiday gift? Did you Peek? The Magic product I hope you all ended up in your loot bag this year is surprisingly the dynamic duo of Zendikar Rising precon Commander decks. Terrific value at a solid price point. If you got packs, I hope they were all triple mythic, counting the foil. At least. Because Christmasland.

All sugarplum dreams aside, this article is about a Commander deck that makes zombie tokens. How is that holiday? Perhaps you’re a novice baker, and your enthusiasm overshadows your abilities significantly. For now. But for now, you’ve decided to do some gingerbread friends for the holidays. And… they’re not great. They’re missing limbs, definition, and pep. You scoured the internet for 25 minutes for ‘alternatives to piping bags’ before giving up and trying a spoon, and then your fingers. Your red icing looks like blood, and the green is just plain weird. It’s a mess. They look like the walking dead.

But that’s perfect. Because you have a Commander deck that makes zombie tokens by the baker’s dozen.

What could be better than a sweet deck with a plate of on-theme cookie tokens? Chump blocking never tasted so good. Shamble on, holiday cookie zombies! Many happy returns from the graveyard!

Many Happy Returns

Commanders (2)
Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus
Tormod, the Desecrator

Zoms (27)
Cemetery Reaper
Crypt Champion
Custodi Lich
Diregraf Captain
Fallen Shinobi
Gleaming Overseer
God-Eternal Kefnet
Grave Defiler
Havengul Lich
Lord of the Undead
Midnight Reaper
Murderous Rider // Swift End
Neheb, the Eternal
Nightscape Familiar
Noxious Ghoul
Phyrexian Delver
Prized Amalgam
Relentless Dead
Risen Executioner
Rot Hulk
Silversmote Ghoul
Undead Gladiator
Undead Warchief
Vengeful Pharaoh
Vesper Ghoul
Vizier of Many Faces

Artifacts (15)
Arcane Signet
Cryptic Gateway
Door of Destinies
Fellwar Stone
Heirloom Blade
Herald’s Horn
Heraldic Banner
Icon of Ancestry
Mirror of the Forebears
Proteus Staff
Sol Ring
Spinning Wheel
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Vanquisher’s Banner
Wayfarer’s Bauble

Sorceries (8)
Army of the Damned
Black Sun’s Zenith
Blood for Bones
Dread Summons
Ignite the Future
Living Death
Zombie Apocalypse

Instant (1)
Thrilling Encore

Enchantments (11)
Call to the Grave
Customs Depot
Dawn of the Dead
Endless Ranks of the Dead
Grave Betrayal
Haunted Crossroads
Impact Tremors
Phyrexian Arena
Phyrexian Reclamation
Rooftop Storm
Lands (36)
Arch of Orazca
Bad River
Bojuka Bog
Command Tower
Crosis’s Catacombs
Crumbling Necropolis
Evolving Wilds
Exotic Orchard
High Market
Keldon Necropolis
Maze of Ith
Memorial to Folly
Miren, the Moaning Well
Mortuary Mire
Path of Ancestry
Phyrexian Tower
Rocky Tar Pit
Scavenger Grounds
Terramorphic Expanse
Unclaimed Territory
Unholy Grotto
Volrath’s Stronghold
Witch’s Cottage

I’ve built many a zombie deck, with builds of mono-black under Liliana, Heretical Healer, esper under Varina, Lich Queen and even everything but green under partners Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus and Ravos, Soultender. Two of the most fun things I did with those decks is make absurd amounts of token zombies, and play Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus. Seriously, Kraum is a riot. I drew 11 cards over a four turn cycle with it once. Then someone got wise and killed it. Kraum is also a terrific way to snatch The Monarch or a Coveted Jewel, a great flying blocker, and could even be a finisher for Commander lethal. I’m super happy to be building around Kraum again.

The new guy is Tormod, the Desecrator. What my Zombie builds have lacked, outside of Varina, was a serious token generator in the Command Zone. Varina requires a particular focus on attacking, discard and graveyard stuffing, which is fine, but Tormod can just sit back and provide the triggers. All we have to do is use stuff that leaves the graveyard, which in a Zombie build should be pretty easy. We do have to keep in mind that Tormod gives us one token whenever any number of cards leaves the graveyard, not one for each card leaving. So exiling our graveyard with something like Tormod’s Crypt provides one token, the same as casting Raise Dead and taking a card to hand.

To maximize those triggers, we’ve got creatures like Cemetery Reaper, Phyrexian Delver, Crypt Champion, Prized Amalgam, Rot Hulk, Risen Executioner, Silversmote Ghoul, Vengeful Pharaoh and Vizier of Many Faces. To name a few. But also to point out the vast array of different kinds of triggers available. Murderous Rider and other cards like it, including dying Commanders under the new rule, hit the graveyard briefly before leaving it. We get a trigger that way, but not on replacement effects, where exile/reshuffle/etc. happens ‘instead’ of dying or going to the graveyard.

Our ideal cards to fit this mechanic actually come from our land base. I got a copy of Volrath’s Stronghold a while back when it was pricey but reasonable. It’s tough to recommend it now, but it’s the real deal here. Same with Unholy Grotto since we’re all zoms. One shot wonders like Mortuary Mire are still pretty good too. From the enchantments, we’ve got perpetual all-star Phyrexian Reclamation, an intriguing piece of tech in Haunted Crossroads and a favourite of mine in Dawn of the Dead. Dawn is great with sacrifice outlets, since the reanimated creatures are only exiled if they get to the end of the turn, not if they leave the battlefield, like most other similar cards.

Cards like Blood for Bones, Victimize, Living Death and Zombie Apocalypse are great for the theme, as well as being strong in general. Thrilling Encore is always promising, and it’ll be cool to get a sneaky trigger from Tormod when we flashback Ignite the Future or Army of the Damned. Filling the graveyard might be an issue with a deck like this, and stuff like Dread Summons and even Customs Depot might not be enough. We’ll see. It might just be enough to play a lot of strong zombies and force the opposition to either deal with them or lose, and dealing with them puts them in the graveyard…. It seems good.

We do have some serious payoffs. Impact Tremors and Throne of the God-Pharaoh are stone-cold killers for just a couple of mana each. I couldn’t resist playing Deadapult, and Proteus Staff should do really well in upgrading my tokens or dealing with troublesome baddies. There are plenty of tribal payoffs too, lords and anthems and Cryptic Gateway and such. Call to the Grave and Grave Betrayal are a fierce one-two punch from the zombie corner.

While we’re making strong plays on our turn, we’re really light on interaction, especially at instant speed. We have tricks and such, but this is a zombie token plan, not a combo Shenanigans plan, or a control plan. We want the zoms, and we want them to win it for us. There’s no instant speed, free, repeatable sacrifice outlet, like Phyrexian Altar, so I feel we can even play both Gravecrawler and Rooftop Storm as semi-fair cards. We might lose for lack of Counterspell sometimes, but we should have a blast doing it.

Especially with a plate of zombie cookies. Careful they don’t bite you first! I hope your holiday was full of the sort of cookie zombie fun that was a great distraction from world events, and kept you safely inside and isolated. We’ll get there. Thanks for reading! Your life matters. Black Lives Matter!

Leave a Reply