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Jul 23 2015

Gareth Hughes

A Casual Guide to Generals: Part 7

Sorry about the delay in getting Part 7 up and written. Turns out retraining professionally can really cut into your free time! Anyway, this 7th part of this series will take a look at the first set of mono black generals that are legal for use as the general of your EDH deck, and attempt to give an opinion on them, tied up nicely at the end with a letter grade. Without further ado, let’s go!

Akuta, Born of Ash

Akuta EDH Commander

Hmmm well here is an interesting start. Akuta is a 3/2 Legendary Spirit with Haste for , which doesn’t sound so great, but there’s more: you can discard a Swamp, and return Akuta from the graveyard to the battlefield. Normally this would be unnecessary, with the Commander rule, but with something like Life from the Loam providing land recursion, and Akuta’s ability dodging the Commander tax, you could get a really nice little recursion engine going with him. Add in some enchantments or other cards that care about creatures entering the battlefield, and some sacrifice effects and that looks like a cool deck archetype. It takes some building around, but I think this is one that could provide a fun challenge that threatens from an unexpected angle.

General Grade C+

Anowon, the Ruin Sage

Ouch, that could hurt. Anowon’s clause about sacrificing non-Vampires tells you pretty much you need to know about him. He is a 4/3 for 5 CMC which isn’t great, but that clause can help keep the number of creatures your opponents have to a minimum…. unless it doesn’t. It is quite easy to get large numbers of creatures out in EDH with a deck built around Rhys the Redeemed or Krenko, Mob Boss and that wuld make it laughably easy to ignore Anowon’s only trick. I can see the merit in including him in the 99 of a Vampire tribal deck, or a control deck that is part black and uses vampires, but I don’t think he is up to scratch as a general.

General Grade D

Ascendant Evincar

The evil Vampire dark twin to white’s Crovax, Ascendant Hero Ascendant Evincar is pretty much a black mirror image with flying instead of the return clause. I am not so sure his bonuses are as useful in black, especially mono black so I think he is probably a worse choice than his white twin. However he is great in the 99 of a deck that uses black, so shouldn’t be dismissed totally, and again might be a reasonable general for a Vampire tribal deck.

General Grade C-

Ashling, the Extinguisher

Another general choice that focusses on sacrificing, Ashling suffers the problem of requiring it to deal combat damage but having no evasion. If you can reliably give Ashling a way to get damage through then should could be quite a potent sacrifice-based general, but without it she is just a reasonably costed 4/4, which just isn’t good enough. Ashling could make a go at the 99 of a deck that wants to force sacrficiing but again suffers as she has no evasion. Overall I think there are better choices for a general for this strategy and for your decks. Avoid.

General Grade D-

Balthor the Defiled

There are two ways to play black Balthor: the easy (reanimator) way, or the hard (Minion Tribal) way. Personally I think, if you are running him as the general in a mono black Minion tribal you are doing it wrong (or are insanely brave), as his reanimator clause combined with the Commander rule give you a great way to keep on bringing back all your creatures to the battlefield. That alone is good enough reason to play him as your general, as there are so many ways of taking advantage of this. Black Balthor also makes a great member of the 99 in any deck, as he can bring back all your black and red creatures, but this time only once. Throw Jund into the mix, and add Riftsweeper to the mix and you can reuse him… it gets very nasty at that point! As you can see black Balthor has a number of different builds he can slot into and he makes a pretty cool general choice.

General Grade B

Baron Sengir

Baron Sengir EDH Commander

Once again, we return to Homelands this time for a truly iconic vampire character… who costs a pretty penny (mana-wise). Coming in at means the Baron is a costly beast but adding +2/+2 every time a creature dies that the Baron damaged can get out of hand quickly. Add into that he can regenerate another target vampire by tapping means he is a decent, if expensive, choice for a vampire tribal deck. He also slots well into the 99 of that deck, being a big finisher with additional upside, should you need to keep another vampire alive. All in all not a bad card, and for Homelands that is high praise indeed!

General Grade B-

Braids, Cabal Minion

She is banned in EDH so isn’t anything to worry about. It’s pretty nasty to have to sacrifice something at every upkeep, all the time, so I am not too surprised she is banned. If she was legal she would probably be a pretty high grade, but not exactly a lot of fun for everyone else. Glad she is banned personally.

General Grade N/A

Cabal Patriarch

A sacrifice outlet and a way to use your graveyard all rolled into a 5/5 body…. Hmm that isn’t too bad a package if I am honest, especially for in black. However, the issue is that black has a lot of different things it can do with its graveyard, and I am not sure I want to spend it all for -2/-2 effects. This can be really powerful against Indestructible, removing it from the board if you lower their toughness to 0, but is this something to build a deck around? Well, perhaps, as long as you have some thing else to do with this efect. However I do think Cabal Patriarch really shines if it is an include in the 99: a general like [card]Vhati il-Dal[card] can really use that instant speed -2/-2 effect, especially as it has two different ways to trigger. Add in that it is a sacrifice outlet, then it can be useful It is still too expensive to do that, so that’s a downside to go along with the positives. All in all I don’t think much of this card as a general but it does have application in the 99.

General Grade D+

Cao Cao, Lord of Wei

A free Mind Rot every turn attached to a 3/3 body for 5 CMC; not a bad deal on the face of it, anbd could certainly be the general of a deck that wants to make it’s opponents discard cards. However Cao Cao’s timing restriction limits his usefulness, meaning that your opponents can engineer to avoid having cards during your pre-combat main phase. It isn’t enough to make me avoid Cao Cao, but it makes me pause and think. This card could be a real role player in a discard deck, fitting in nicely as a good body that can block as well as force discard. Cao cao is not a bad choice for a discard deck, although that drawback really does hinder him.

General Grade C+

Cao Ren, Wei Commander

Urgh… an 3/3 unblockable, with a drawback? This is evidence for how far creature design has come since the days of Portal Three Kingdoms, as back then this was a (not very good) rare and now it wouldn’t pass muster at common in some sets. I would be hard pushed to want to include this in a deck (and I have a really janky Unbloackables deck where I feasibly could) let alone waste the general role on him. One to truly avoid.

General Grade F
Chainer, Dementia Master

Chainer Dementia Master

This is another mono black general where there are two really obvious routes to build around him. The Nightmare tribal route, or the steal-your-opponent’s-stuff route. Since there are currently only 9 mono black Nightmare creatures in the game, the tribal route looks pretty tough to me, although we can live in hope that Wizards one day does a Nightmare focussed world perhaps? The second route therefore looks to be more profitable. Chainer is somewhat mana intensive to activate but when he does do his thing he can steal from anyone’s graveyard, and he doesn’t have to tap to do it. A neat trick is to stack multiple triggers activating him, then sacrifice him before they resolve, meaning that your army isn’t vulnerable to one point removal spell. He is quite a fiddly general to make good use of, and requires a lot of mana and life to be really effective (as well as ways to ensure your opponent’s graveyards are stocked) but if you do all this I can see him being quite a lot of fun.

General Grade B-

Commander Greven il-Vec

This guy is pretty huge! A 7/5 with Fear is big, especially when coming in at only , a decent rate in black. He ostensibly has a drawback, in that you need to sacrifice a creature when he enters, but with so many uses for a sacrifice outlet, this doesn’t really seem such a big negativ. Greven is big enough that he can finish the game in 3 hits if he is your general, and that alone is worthy of note. In the 99 his impact is somewhat lessened, but he is stil a nice, big, somewhat difficult to block beater, and in the batlecruiser magic that is EDH that is no bad thing.

General Grade C

Crovax the Cursed

Another legendary Vampire for mono black, and one that is quite far down my list of Vampires to be my general if I am honest. A 4/4 for 4 CMC is… fine for a vanilla common, and having an activated ability to fly for is also right on the money for a common. So what else does Crovax have? A drwaback: the need to sacrifice a creature every upkeep or lose a +1/+1 counter (Did I mention actually he is a 0/0 with 4 counters on him? No? Well there, now you know). If you do sacrifice, then he gains a +1/+1 counter, so it’s not all bad! (note, that was sarcastic). I can honestly not see the reason to chose Crovax as your general, he is simply outclassed by modern creatures. If it is nostalgia you want, ay Baron Sengir instead.

General Grade F

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief

Drana Commander EDH

Now Drana is a big, bad, nasty vampire to use as a general. The really obvious thing to do with her is use her to kill your opponent doing general damage as she can be boosted up very easily, whilst alos killing anything that might block her. Get enough mana on the table, ensure you can protect her, maybe find a way to give her haste ( Swiftfoot Boots anyone?) and watch as she simply takes out whoever you want dead. Drana can do almost exactly the same in the 99, but it just requires either more turns or more mana. It’s pretty obvious she is powerful, but I have to say it’s not exactly the most thrilling way to wina game. Still, sometimes, needs must and she has real power.

General Grade B+

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder

Endrek Sahr represents one of the ways to play Tokens in mono black, which is something of a rarity. He is also one of the most fun ways I can think of to make tokens, meaning you need a way to make use of the Thrulls he creates or you risk losing him. A properly built deck with sacrifice outlets, and for added fun Morph creatures (who have a CMC of 0 so won’t trigger Endrek Sahr) for when you are near your limit and away you go, enjoy the token fun. If you have a deck that needs tokens but don’t want Endrek Sahr as your general then he will fit nicely into the token production role there too. A pretty fun card overall.

General Grade B

Erebos, God of the Dead

An Indestructible Card draw engine that prevents my opponents from gaining life? Yes please! Erebos is a pretty powerful way to helm your deck, as he is difficult to remove, easy to keep active (black has great cards to keep Devotion up) and can keep on drawing you cards. If you have a way to gain life too, then you realy are set, it’s like the deck builds itself! With these basic building blocks in place there are a number of different ways you can build around Erebos, meaning he is flexible and powerful. If you want to slot him into your 99, he will work exactly the same, just less reliable, as you don’t get access to him all the time. Erebos is something of a powerhouse!

General Grade A

Gallowbraid

Oh boy, from the heights of Erebos, God of the Dead, we now arrive at Gallowbraids. Again we revisit the time when reasonably priced black creatures with abilities had to have drawbacks too. A 5/5 for is pretty good, especially with Trample thrown into the mix. However there is a kicker: Cumulative Upkeep, which is 1 life. He is going to kill you faster than he kills your opponents! When all is said and done, he is simply french vanilla beater with a horrid drawback cost and no reason to play him as your general at all. If you want to include him your deck, you could but again I would question why?

General Grade F

Geth, Lord of the Vault

Geth Lord of the Vault EDH

Geth is another entry in the steal-your-opponents-stuff roster of generals, and his ability is structured in such a way that it starts to fuel itself after one activation if you are lucky. Cast some spells that mill your opponent, activate him, steel their mana rock, then go to town in subsequent turns! If you get bored of that plan, attack with Geth as he has a 5/5 body and Intimidate meaning he can connect a good number of times if you are playing certain colour combinations. Geth’s summoning cost of will mean you don’t want him dying off too often but he is worth the price you pay to keep him alive. Another powerul general to build around.

General Grade A

Ghoulcaller Gisa

A second possible choice for a token producing general, Gisa allows you to go wide by sacrificing a creature to produce lots of 2/2 zombie tokens. With the right support, you could simply use those tokens to overwhelm your opponents, and the rest of the creatures in your deck to be fuel for more and more zombies. Gisa’s drawback is that you have to tap her to activate this ability, meaning unless you have ways to untap her it’s a once a turn thing. However she comes with a 3/4 body for her cost of 5 CMC which isn’t awful, so at least she is somewhat resilient. Gisa might actually be better off as part of the 99 in some kind of Zombie tribal deck, but she is still not a bad choice for a general, if going wide is your thing.

General Grade B-

There we have it, the first part of black is finished. Next time round I will pick back up with Grandmother Sengir, and we shall make further headyway through black’s murky waters. What’s your favourite black general? Did I get the grades widly wrong, or do you agree? Let me know in the coments below, and thanks for reading.

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Gareth Hughes
I'm a longtime casual player of MtG, having started way back in 1997, and dropping in and out a few times ever since. I played for a good while during Onslaught and Mirrodin blocks, dropped at Kamigawa and came back this time round for Gatecrash. It is around this point that I discovered Commander (EDH), and I now almost exclusively build and play Commander decks, hitting the 20+ deck mark earlier this year... I think I might have an addiction.

4 comments

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  1. Wally D.
    Wally D.

    As always we tend to agree on most grades, but, today I would like to open up the discussion for Chainer to earn some “extra credit”to bump up his letter grade. While correct, tribal is impossible and stealing opponents stuff is a route you can go, mono black control is where this guy shines. I have been playing him for a while now and usually focus on just reanimating my own goodies like Kokusho, the Evening Star, Grey Merchant, Fleshbag Marauder, and things of that nature. Coupling a sacrifice theme with Grave Pact effects and life gain has won me a ton of matches with my Chainer, Sacrifice Master deck.

    Final thought… Drana. She is sooooo good. I have her in the 99 of several decks and am never disappointed to see her. She controls the board very well and with Crypt Ghast on board she can make a living torturing indestructibles like Avacyn.

    Well done Gareth, you were on the mark for most of your grades. Looking forward to the continuation!

  2. Gareth Hughes
    Gareth Hughes

    I hadn’t considered Chainer in that role before, and I must admit to not having had chance to pilot a deck with him at the helm, so I think extra credit is probably something that I should award for him. I am thinking about getting hold of a copy to try him out, and that kind of deck sounds like something id enjoy playing. Nothing better than a deck which makes everyone sacrifice when you lose something!

    Thanks for the feedback on this and the previous articles, it’s grarifying to know that I’m getting the grades there or there abouts. I must get my Vhati decklist up so we can compare!

    1. Wally D.
      Wally D.

      We definitely need to compare Vhati builds. I’d really like to get Vhati up to the 75% level, but I feel he is sitting at 60% right now. :(

      I Played the deck last night and felt like I was on super-durdle mode. Got my faced bashed in by Maelstrom, Prossh and Sigarda. Now that I think of it, that was quite the menacing trio for Vhati to take on. What was I thinking, lol.

  3. avatar
    cailtis

    In the same vein about WallyD’s comments about Chainer, I’d also like to throw my $0.02 in there. I’ve typically seen him as “the deck” to play if a player is wanting to play mono black reanimator. We have other options for a mono-black commander that revolves around this theme, but Chainer is by far the most all-inclusive towards providing the effects to pilot an operable reanimator deck. In my opinion, and in what most I’d think find most typical, is that the difficulty of the two-step process of actually doing reanimation (which is, filling the yard with targets first and then reanimating said targets second) is the second step and the physical reanimation itself — Chainer has it on him, which is very convenient, as I could show you how many mono-black reanimation spells I’d like to play in an EDH deck on one hand, probably.

    Like WallyD said, there are some restrictions, but Chainer plays a real mean control shell as a result. Gareth, you brought up the whole “steal your enemies’ stuff” bit which is of course a bonus for control players who want to use external resources to keep beats on the board while also removing reanimation targets from *their* own yards. The life and mana costs of maintaining the deck’s steam could be problematic for a typical deck, but like most other mono-black generals, you’ll want to go heavy into black-producing bonuses and multipliers that have been discussed before. The ability’s life cost to activate can hurt after decently-long game of reanimating too, so the life creatures WallyD brought up are good choices for mitigating that lifeloss in a pinch (bonus points for both being finishers too! *Val – uuuuue*).

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