Hello again, my beloved readers! My name is Seth Cross and I am back for the final installment of this year’s edition of Replacement Commanders! This series is dedicated to looking at the Commander precon decks each year, pulling aside the legendary creatures that were not chosen to be the face of each deck, and therefore not truly highlighted in that deck’s 99. This is where they get a chance in the spotlight!
It has been a wild ride this year, seeing how we have forayed into stax decks, massive token piles, a new look on reanimation, infinite combos galore, “all permanents everything” decks, eight-legged forced combat trickery, and the oddest deck (get it?) I have ever built. The ride is not over yet, since there is one more Replacement Commander to cover. It is extra special to me because I have been waiting for this theme since last year. Since it was the last option, I did not run my usual Twitter or Praetor Magic Discord server polls. After all, we already knew we were talking about…
I have been waiting for this theme since last year. With Commander 2017, Wizards of the Coast announced that they were doing four different tribal decks, without initially telling us the tribes or the colors of each deck. I made a four-part series of deck tech videos on the Praetor Magic YouTube channel where I tried to predict these four tribes and what colors they would be. I correctly guessed Mardu Vampires, (the Edgar Markov deck). I incorrectly guessed Abzan Elves and Jund Goblins, and one more potential theme: Esper Zombies. I was incorrect that it would show up in Commander 2017, but it did finally arrive in Commander 2018!
Ironically, I used Oloro, Ageless Ascetic as the filler commander for the sample deck tech in my predictions to give me the right colors and provide value from the command zone. Looking at how Varina turned out, I was not that far off. Both legendary creatures offer a way to gain life and even card advantage. Varina goes one step further, though, and works to illustrate how well Zombie decks can utilize the graveyard as a resource. She fills the graveyard due to her discard effect, then can turn those cards into more Zombie tokens, which can then be used to draw and discard more cards as they attack.
I know in this and the Uncommonder series, I have spoken about how I tend to play on the Spike-ish side, with big explosive plays, constantly optimizing my decks to be as tuned as they can be. However, sometimes I get a thrill out of building a deck based solely on a theme. One of my favorite decks that I built this way was a Queen Marchesa “kingdom” deck where each card was a part of the Queen’s court, from having a pet Dragon (Oros, the Avenger) to accruing an army with Assemble the Legion. Varina being titled “Lich Queen” makes me want to try this all over again, but with tons more undead, decaying flesh involved.
Naturally, when you have a queen, you want a king, and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed seems like a great option. A royal family needs a loyal knight and Josu Vess, Lich Knight seems like a much better fit than Haakon, Stromgald Scourge. Diregraf Captain and Death Baron have titles in their card names, so they fit right in. “Vizier” is a politically based title, so Sidisi, Undead Vizier takes a spot within the inner court. No Zombie court is complete without a mad scientist (Laboratory Maniac) and a laboratory to do insane experiments (Rooftop Storm). Every kingdom needs commerce and what better way to encourage trade than by enlisted a Gray Merchant of Asphodel?
Speaking of commerce, a Zombie city would attract some tourists, so they are going to need a guide. An Aven Wind Guide, even. We also need to tend to our city’s spiritual needs, so we recruited a pretty good cleric in the form of Liliana, Heretical Healer and some of her workers, Graveyard Marshal and Gravedigger. On the subject of spiritual needs, what better God to pray to than one that makes more Zombies? You already know I’m talking about The Scarab God. We should also remember that queens are part of monarchies, which is also a great mechanic in Magic: the Gathering. Lucky for us, there is a great Zombie Cleric that makes us the Monarch: Custodi Lich! A queen also needs a Keeper of Keys for her castle; it may not be a Zombie, but making our Army of the Damned unblockable seems very powerful.
There is more to a city than just the people (or Zombies, in this case) that inhabit it. We mentioned the laboratory of the mad scientist, but we also need a Library of Leng, and every good library keeps a great Alhammarret’s Archive, for historical purposes. To entertain the masses, we can toss a few peons into the fighting pit, aptly named the Phyrexian Arena. When the Zombie army goes to war, we have to show our pride and colors, so Coat of Arms and Vanquisher’s Banner will be at the forefront of our legions of the undead. Our Zombies will roar into battle to the sound of the Herald’s Horn. For the most part, people consider Zombies to be brainless, sluggish, never-ending fodder when it comes to battle, but Varina attracts a wily, clever crop of the undead to her legions, who perform quite a bit of Reconnaissance to keep the troops safe even behind enemy lines.
Despite enjoying the flavor of the deck, we still want to ensure it can perform well on the kitchen table. In order to do that, I think it is important to include a few loose combo cards, as well as a suite of strong support cards to help us ramp, draw, and remove key pieces or wrath the field. Laboratory Maniac is a well-known combo piece, but running Zombie tribal allows us to work with cards like Undead Alchemist and Altar of Dementia for the potential infinite mill. Even better, they hit flavor checkboxes as well; an alchemist is right at home in the city of the undead, as is the altar at which our undying townsfolk may pray.
I struggled with the idea of running a few Equipment cards, to ephasize that Varina is a mighty queen who joins her troops in battle. Cards like Commander staple Lightning Greaves and then even Argentum Armor (since Varina is already definitely going to attack) would fit in nicely, but I realized that properly supporting this strategy would cost me in other places. I omitted the overall idea from the list, but Esper colors are actually very well equipped to handle Voltron strategies and it might be interesting to eventually brew a “battle queen” version of Varina.
Here is the list for our Undead Kingdom version:
If you pay close attention (or have used EDHREC.com to build your own Varina, Lich Queen deck) you will have probably noticed that nearly all of these cards were listed on the page. I omitted a few to stick to the flavor of “undead kingdom led by a Zombie queen,” but overall the deck comes straight from the site based on how people are building it. Oddly enough, that actually makes me even more excited to make lists like this! Fun, flavor-based decks can be entertaining to run, especially when explaining what each card in the deck represents, but having a deck that can both win the flavor challenge while also performing well is a sometimes rare treat.
As I said in the beginning of this article, this is our last Replacement Commander! How did you feel about this year’s installments? How did you feel about the Replacement Commander cards themselves? What are you hoping to see for next year? Let me know in the comments down below! Speaking of comments, something I am going to start doing is taking my favorite comment, whether it is left on this page down below the articles, the reddit posts I make for the article or sent to me on Twitter or even the Praetor Magic Discord server, and highlighting it in each following article. For instance, last time we talked about Kestia, the Cultivator as a Stax commander and /u/Syncharmony wrote on reddit:
“I don’t know you and I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. However, after reading your article I think it’s pretty safe to say that you are an awful person. Stasis? Really? I didn’t realize someone reanimated Stalin’s corpse and taught it how to build EDH decks.”
Every time I read this, it makes me laugh! But seriously, though… Stasis is not THAT bad, is it? … Hello? Readers? Anyone?!
Keep brewing, have fun, and I will return next year with some more Replacement Commanders! Thank you all so much for your support for this year, you all make writing this series a true joy!