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Alesha, Who Luls at Death, a primer by Rikente (Update coming)

I've been playing Magic for basically forever with EDH being something picked up in 2010. I slowly made the transition from playing exclusively standard to playing mostly standard and a little EDH to now playing exclusively EDH. When I first started I played almost exclusively combo decks, and I didn't see any problem with winning out of hand. A few years later I saw that decks that revolved around combos were not actually that much fun for me to play, since they didn't require any decisions. You drew your tutors, searched up your combo pieces, and won. Now I run very few combos and very few tutors. This results in a much more fun and varied game. Understanding my approach will probably clarify some of my deck building decisions. To avoid any confusion, the following primer is for EDH only. This list is not intended for Duel Commander.
Alesha brings a lot to the table, but so do the other potential Mardu commanders.

Most people consider Kaalia of the Vast to be the strongest general in these colors, and because of that she attracts a lot of attention. When I play EDH I never want to seem like the most threatening person at the table until it's too late. Kaalia looks threatening from turn one. Additionally, there's really only one build path for that deck. Alesha, on the other hand, can go combo, aggro, or control. You can play aristocrats, dredge, stax, or any number of other styles.

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls is another option for a reanimator style deck. Unfortunately, not only are you relying on your opponents to have creatures in their graveyards, you're relying on RNG to pull back the right ones! The fact that you have such little control over the ability makes me much less interested in Tariel. I suppose you could run some targeted graveyard hate like Withered Wretch, but you still run into the issue that Tariel herself costs 7 mana! That's a lot in a deck without green; too much for my taste.

The original Mardu general, Oros, the Avenger, is pretty underwhelming these days. Pretty good against tokens I guess, but costs 6 and has to connect. Pretty rough.

While Alesha is a very political deck, Zurgo Helmsmasher is quite the opposite. If you want to make all of the decisions, play Alesha. If you want to make none of them, play Zurgo.

I will be honest and say that there's one Mardu general that intrigues me quite a bit: Queen Marchesa. I want to look through a few lists before I make a judgment on her.

Partners make this whole comparison thing pretty confusing. I'm not going to get into them here, but I'll at least say that the reason I don't like them is their loose synergy. When I build an EDH deck the commander is incredibly important to me, and Alesha speaks more to me as a single card than any of the possible partner combinations do.

Basically play Alesha if

  • You don't want to win with brute force
  • You like ETB abilities
  • You want your graveyard to be your hand
  • You enjoy answering threats as opposed to presenting them

Don't play Alesha if
  • You like big dudes
  • You like ramp
  • You dislike graveyard shenanigans

For this section I'm talking purely about list above. Building Alesha as more of a combo deck or with more reanimator or however you want will certainly adjust these.

Good matchups:
  • Pillowfort: The creatures brought into play by Alesha don't have to be attacking the same target and get around cards like Ghostly Prison or Isperia, Supreme Judge. This on top of a slew of artifact/enchantment hate will eventually pull you through. Good cards: Duergar Hedge-Mage, Leonin Relic-Warder
  • Voltron: You will almost never be the first target of the Voltron player. This should give you time to draw the artifact/enchantment hate you need. This should be used to keep the Voltron player's target alive an extra turn. It will make them an ally and delay the switch of focus to you. Good cards: Any spot removal if no hexproof, Duergar Hedge-Mage, Leonin Relic-Warder
  • STAX: All of our stuff is pretty cheap and we aren't overly concerned with our stuff getting destroyed. We have Alesha and myriad other ways to return creatures to the battlefield, as well as many ways to destroy what's keeping us locked down. Generally we only want to do that if it's going to severely hinder us, since we can play around most effects. Let someone else deal with the problem. Good cards: Any artifact/enchantment hate, Thief of Blood, Squee, Goblin Nabob
  • Control: Don't play into board wipes. Keep an eye on what other players are doing to determine what the control deck's response will be. Make sure it doesn't affect you too much. We can recur our threats, so try to do that instead of expending new resources when recovering. The biggest problem for us here is Cyclonic Rift, but we don't have much counterplay against that. Good cards: Cavern of Souls, Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Grand Abolisher, Lightning Greaves, Liliana, Heretical Healer  , Sin Collector, Swiftfoot Boots

Bad matchups:
  • Ramp: This is probably our worst matchup. Hopefully the ramp deck becomes the raid boss and everyone focuses it down. Do what you can to not be the most threatening to that person so that they smack someone else. Good cards: Burnished Hart, Maze of Ith
  • Tokens: Alesha struggles a bit with a wide strategy. I've neglected to include a large number of board wipes, so once people get on the board in force we're in trouble. Good cards: Damnation, Living Death
  • Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite: Really hard to win through this card. Need one of our spot removal cards in hand to really have a chance. Exile it if at all possible.
When using any deck we need to consider the commonly referenced quadrant theory, which deals with four possible game stats: Developing, Parity, Winning, and Losing. Below is an explanation of the cards and effects you want to see at each stage of the game. For a more nuanced approach to playing with a list like this, please see the Politics with Alesha section.
  • Developing: The most important thing we do in the first few turns of the game is hit our land drops. We don't have very much ramp in the deck so it's important we play a land every turn. Additionally, we want to have one sac outlet and put one creature with a small impact into our graveyard. Cards like Land Tax and Faithless Looting help with both of these objectives. Good creatures at this point would be things like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Insolent Neonate, or Mindless Automaton. Murderous Redcap and Sin Collector don't have huge effects but both aggressively target so use them carefully. Recruiter of the Guard could draw a lot of attention depending on what you tutor but is also one of your strongest reanimate targets at any stage of the game. Other good cards at this point include Phyrexian Arena, Stoneforge Mystic, and Anarchist.

  • Parity: When everything looks pretty even, you'll want to set up one of the innocuous yet strong packages available. Using Mindless Automaton and card: Goglari Thug is a great way to fill your graveyard with goodies and reload. This is usually about the time I try to get Anger into the graveyard with Corpse Connoisseur or some other way. Value is our main goal here. Drawing cards from Grim Haruspex, ramping with Solemn Simulacrum, and keeping the raid boss in check with Bone Shredder and Fulminator Mage all put us ahead without making any enemies.

  • Winning: Most decks have a pretty easy time playing from this position. With Alesha, however, it's difficult to even tell when you are ahead since we can't amass any sort of large board presence. In my experience when you're winning with this deck nobody else knows it. Usually it requires something like a few pieces of removal in hand with some sort of repeatable engine to generate some value. Your worst enemy while ahead is overplaying your hand, both literally and figuratively. This is a reanimator deck, so at any point in the game we should expect a Relic of Progenitus or Tormod's Crypt to come down and rain on our parade. Our cards in hand are the only ways to recover from this. In the more abstract sense we want to be sure that no one sees the incremental advantage we are trying to build. Basically if you're ahead, make sure that you're the only one who knows and just keep doing what you're doing.

  • Losing: Unlike when you're winning, it's painfully easy to tell when you're losing. Usual signs of this include an inability to keep Alesha on the field, no good targets in your graveyard, or no cards in hand. Generally you want to hold out until you can find some sort of card advantage engine in Skullclamp or Recruiter of the Guard. If things look really dire though, only two cards can carry you to victory: Buried Alive and Living Death. Buried Alive can win you the game out of no where by searching up most of your combo pieces (See the Combos section). All that you need is Alesha and a sac outlet and victory is within your grasp. Similarly, Living Death as a board wipe and full reanimate spell could generate enough of a tempo/card advantage swing to rocket you right back into the game. This works especially well if you run Agent of Erebos.

As I mentioned above, Alesha is a very complex commander and when playing this deck you have many decisions to weigh at every moment. This makes playing the deck difficult yet rewarding. Additionally, the deck cannot win by playing the scariest threats at the table, so you will need to employ some cunning as the pilot in order to be the victor. Here are a few tips on how to use politics and the cards at your disposal to be the last man standing.
  • Threat Assessment: At every point in the game it's important to know how dangerous each deck is. This includes factors such as the pilot, what the deck COULD do, and what the deck IS doing. For instance, if you're facing against a blink deck like Roon of the Hidden Realm that has an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in the graveyard then they are dangerous because Karmic Guide is incredibly strong in that list. This doesn't make them necessarily the most dangerous player at the table though, because it's only the threat of what could happen. I'd certainly rank them below the player with an Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre on the field. If this were a three player game I would consider the controller of the Eldrazi as "rank 1" and the Roon of the Hidden Realm player as "rank 2". Our rank is important, but we'll talk about that later.

  • Making Deals: Deals are an important aspect of any politically driven game of EDH. Since very few of our cards can actively help other players we can only make friends in one of two ways: destroy something keeping them down or use strong-arm tactics. Did the Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre player make a comment that indicates you are their next target? Maybe destroy their Pithing Needle that is keeping Roon of the Hidden Realm at bay. Suddenly we have a new friend, and our enemy has to redirect aggression to a different target. Is the player with Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre threatening to attack us? Threaten their board state.

  • Managing Resources: Managing resources in any game of Magic is important. Cards in hand, life total, mana... How you use these is all very important. In Alesha (and any graveyard based deck) a common pitfall is to overextend into the graveyard. Discarding creatures gives us a toolbox feel, but if we get hit by a Tormod's Crypt or someone plays a Rest in Peace we don't want to be out of the game. Because of this and the fact that our cards are on average weaker than most other players' we want to get as much value as possible from every single card we play. This translates into possibly reanimating the same three or four creatures repeatedly, forcing our opponents to use graveyard hate in suboptimal positions. Your goal with this deck is not to win when there are three other players at the table, so don't overextend until you're down to two players or you want a sweet Living Death. Even I can't turn that down.

  • Conversation: In my experience playing this deck, keeping the table talking is my best weapon. By doing this you can garner information about how everyone sees the current state of the game and then decide what you need to do in order to take advantage. Does the player with Sword of Feast and Famine want to untap his lands but doesn't want to make an enemy? Offer to take the hit and make a friend instead; we usually don't care about discarding. Is the elves player going to attack you since you have the fewest blockers? Maybe point out a planeswalker that is getting close to ultimate status. The easiest way to control the game is by discussing threat rank, so use the assessment we talked about earlier to your advantage.

  • Our Threat Rank: I've mentioned several times in this guide how the last thing we want is to attract attention. Ideally we will be sitting at rank 2 or 3 for most of the game. If your rank moved up to 1 then you probably overextended, so be careful. The difficulty in managing our threat rank is how many things might happen in one of our turns. If at the beginning of your turn Squee, Goblin Nabob triggers, you draw an extra card due to Phyrexian Arena, reanimate a Recruiter of the Guard with an Alesha attack, and fetch your Selfless Spirit you haven't really done much during your turn but you've done a lot. Players often will equate number of moving parts to strength, so it's important we reinforce the idea that other players are more threatening than we are.

  • Combat: People often ask me how you can avoid attention while playing a commander who is required to attack. There are a few different ways. Anyone familiar with Alesha would probably suggest either Maze of Ith or Reconnaissance. The way that I typically use, however is far simpler: I ask. Usually the creatures we are going to return are either not threatening at all or only threatening to one player. If you ask the table "Hey would anybody mind if I attack them so I can return my Vampire Hexmage? His Thromok the Insatiable is out of hand," then someone will probably let it happen. This is a nice way to sneak a bit of damage in without making yourself anyone's enemy. Often I will offer for others to attack me when they ask as well. You may incur a bit of damage and have to discard due to Sword of Feast and Famine, but the attacking player just doubled his mana for a turn which will affect his threat rank much more than you discarding a Gonti, Lord of Luxury will set you back.

  • Taking Action: So now that we know how to politick our way through the game we need to address how to win and who to target. Unlike many other lists we cannot just blindly attack the person in rank 1, as their wrath is probably a storm we cannot weather. Instead we should focus on helping our current allies knock that player down a few pegs. Make creatures unblockable with Key to the City, remove key permanents with Duergar Hedge-Mage, and slow down alpha strikes with Maze of Ith. When the first player starts reaching critical life totals you should immediately pull back. Help put the person in rank 1 from 40 to 10 as fast as possible, but don't assist at all from that point. The longer that person is alive the longer they will bleed resources from your opponents. When that person finally is removed from the game you want to have the most cards in hand and the second best board. This situation will probably buy you one turn cycle of not being the raid boss. You can remove the most dangerous threats and recur yours, possibly setting up one of the combos mentioned later in this guide. If everything went according to plan, after the first death everyone will be running low on resources (except you), so you can start cranking up the pressure and moving for the win.

  • Because this list doesn't have the sheer power the compete with a lot of decks out there I have included a few combos that will either win the game or put me in a great position to do so.
  • Karmic Guide + Reveillark + Goblin Bombardment
    How it works: With Reveillark and Goblin Bombardment on the field and Karmic Guide in the graveyard, activate Goblin Bombardment, targeting one of your opponents and sacrificing Reveillark. Before that ability resolves, Reveillark's leaves the battlefield ability triggers. Target Karmic Guide and return it to play. When it enters play, its ability triggers. Target Reveillark and bring that back into play. Finally, Goblin Bombardment's ability resolves, dealing one damage to your opponent. Sacrifice Karmic Guide and you're back where you started. Repeat this process until everyone else is dead! If you have a sacrifice outlet other than Goblin Bombardment and another creature with two power or less then you can have any number of effects repeated infinitely. Draw your deck with Mindless Automaton, mill your opponents with Gonti, Lord of Luxury, or just kill the table with Murderous Redcap!

  • Crypt Champion + Fiend Hunter + Goblin Bombardment
    How it works: With Goblin Bombardment on the field and Fiend Hunter in your graveyard, cast Crypt Champion. When it enters the battlefield, its ability triggers. Target Fiend Hunter and return it to play. When that comes into play, target Crypt Champion with its exile ability. Once the ability has resolved, sacrifice your Fiend Hunter to Goblin Bombardment and deal one damage to your opponent's face. Fiend Hunter goes to the graveyard and Crypt Champion returns to play. Its ETB effect puts us back where we started, just make sure the sacrifice ability goes on the stack first. Wash, rinse, repeat!

    : In either combo Goblin Bombardment can be replaced with any sacrifice outlet and Blood Artist/Zulaport Cutthroat to achieve the same result.

  • Anarchist + Living Death + Phyrexian Altar
    How it works: In order to perform this combo Phyrexian Altar needs to be on the battlefield, Anarchist in your graveyard, and Living Death in your hand. Additionally, you need at least 4 other creatures to enter the battlefield from your Living Death. I recently removed Siege-Gang Commander, but it's an all-star here, as it facilitates the combo all by itself. The combo begins when you cast Living Death (PSA: Sacrifice all of your creatures to Phyrexian Altar NOW). All of your creatures return to play bringing with them a host of enter the battlefield effects, including Anarchist's ability to return the Living Death that you just cast from your graveyard to your hand. Sacrifice all of your creatures to generate at least 5 mana and cast Living Death again! With even one extra creature this becomes infinite mana of any color, which will probably win you the game if the repeated Living Deaths don't first.

  • There are probably a few cards in this decklist that are a little confusing at first glance. Some of them are very difficult to use but have incredible payoff while others are there purely for style points among your playgroup.

  • Nahiri, the Harbinger: This is a card I'm testing out. I probably want to throw Sun Titan back in the list to have another potential target for her ultimate, but right now she's just here for her first two abilities. Being able to cycle through cards is a mechanic we see a lot in this deck, and it's nice to have that stapled to sweet removal for any problem artifacts and enchantments that our opponents may play. Right now, if I ever get her to eight loyalty I'm searching up Reveillark for a leaves the battlefield trigger, Thief of Blood to ruin the Atraxa, Praetors' Voice player's day, or Sun Titan to generate some serious value.

  • Crypt Champion: In my first iteration of the deck, this guy was part of my favorite interaction. Like Karmic Guide, Crypt Champion can be reanimated by Alesha (tapped and attacking) while bringing a friend who is hanging back. This is especially useful when you want your Fiend Hunter to exile a dude while staying safely at home or need Grand Abolisher to survive until the postcombat main phase for your shenanigans. Crypt Champion also has a fantastic interaction with Liliana, Heretical Healer  . If both are in your graveyard and you attack with Alesha, return your Crypt Champion to play. As soon as he hits the battlefield, both of his abilities trigger. Since you brought the zombie back from the graveyard instead of casting him with , he will be sacrificed upon entering the battlefield. However, if you raise Liliana, Heretical Healer   before that happens then his death will trigger her transform ability. This is a really cool way to recur a planeswalker without needing a sacrifice outlet; Crypt Champion brings his own!

  • Key to the City: If you're playing Alesha without Key to the City then you should remedy that immediately. It fits perfectly into your curve around our leading lady and provides three very important functions in this deck: It discards cards (specifically creatures with power 2 or less), protects Alesha during combat, and draws us more cards. You could use this in conjunction with Master of Cruelties for some really cool turn 4 kills or Big Game Hunter to really mess up someone's combat step.

  • Maze of Ith: Aside from the excellent defensive presence this card brings, we can target our own Alesha to save her during otherwise deadly combat.

  • Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit: This card not only buffs any creature brought back by Alesha but also goes infinite with Murderous Redcap and any sacrifice outlet. I originally left it off the list because I didn't want the deck to be too combo oriented. However, recently I have been working to make the deck slightly more competitive, and I think adding another combo is a good way to do that.

  • Slayers' Stronghold: Haste enablers are incredibly important. Once we hop on board the value train our opponents will be unlikely to leave Alesha on the table, so attacking the turn she comes down is imperative. Slayers' Stronghold can also be used in conjunction with Murderous Redcap. When the goblin enters the battlefield, its ability is put on the stack. However, its power is not checked until the ability resolves. If, in response to Murderous Redcap entering the battlefield we activate Slayers' Stronghold then we turn a measly 2 damage into a whopping 8!

  • Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Grand Abolisher, Sin Collector, and Thief of Blood: These guys are all included to help with my meta specifically. If there are people in your playgroup abusing Gaea's Cradle or Cabal Coffers then maybe Avalanche Riders needs to come in. Eidolon of Rhetoric is a good answer to any Storm deck that's been running rampant. Someone else trying to edge you out of the graveyard game? Introduce them to Agent of Erebos. These slots are pretty flexible and will change based on what sort of protection/hate you need.

  • I've left out some cards that I'm sure most Alesha players would consider core pieces of the list. I'll try to defend myself as best I can.

  • Reconnaissance: Maze of Ith on all of our creatures seems pretty appealing to a lot of Alesha players, but in my opinion this card works better in a list with more hatebears. As it is we don't really care about our guys dying (save our main girl), so this card doesn't give much advantage.

  • Cathartic Reunion: I had this in the list for a while, but the discard two was proving too clunky. Faithless Looting at least has the discard after we draw, making it a tad easier.

  • Master of Cruelties: This card just kills people. I know that sounds silly to say it "just" kills people, but usually things that kill people draw a LOT of attention. Additionally, if you do kill someone then it's probably pretty early in the game, before they can muster any sort of defenses. Since I play predominantly with friends, making people sit and watch the game as early as turn 4 is not something that interests me.

  • Cathars' Crusade: This is another one that goes infinite with Murderous Redcap. The reason it didn't make the cut, however, is because I removed most of the token producers from the deck (See the sideboard) and it doesn't do enough as a 5 mana enchantment without those guys. This is another card that makes people look at our board, which is something we want to avoid if at all possible.

  • Duplicant: Honestly I'm not sure why this isn't in there. Probably because I only have one copy. I'll think about adding it back in, but I haven't run into any issues.

  • Mentor of the Meek: I have very little difficulty keeping 6+ cards in my hand with the current list. In the future if I find myself needing a bit more card advantage this will probably pop back in.

  • Sneak Attack: I only have one copy of this card and it's in my cube. If I had another I would most certainly include it. Sneak Attack functions very similarly to our discard outlets except that we get the bonus of any ability the creature brings along with it.

  • Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker: I was never terribly impressed with this card. It draws a lot of attention because of its interactions with Restoration Angel and Zealous Conscripts, neither of which I run. Doesn't seem worth the focus.

  • Sunforger: I'm sure that anyone who has built a deck with Boros has thought about this card. It's a value engine all by itself. Opponent plays a board wipe? Boros Charm. Someone else attempting reanimator nonsense? Rakdos Charm. Avacyn hit the board? Anguished Unmaking (bonus points for flavor). The really fun thing is that this card synergizes with Mistveil Plains which was also included in this deck. With enough white permanents you can cast Boros Charm every turn! That being said, 3 mana to cast the equipment, 3 mana to equip it, and 2 more to finally cast the spell usually is just too expensive. We will often use all of our mana every turn, so weaving this in proves very difficult.

  • Usually when I build a deck I scrap it within a few weeks. I decide the play is too linear or the build is too narrow and I start from scratch. This is the first deck in years that has not fallen to that pattern. The last words I would use to describe Alesha are "linear" and "narrow". I have gone through so many iterations of this deck and plan to go through many more. Below is a list of cards that I've thought about adding or had in the deck previously. This is by no means comprehensive, just a possible starting point. My favorite part of EDH is building, so I hope this resource is helpful. Thanks everybody who made it this far, and have fun brewing!

    Aegis of the Gods
    Agent of Erebos (Ran him for a while, debating putting it back in)
    Altar of Dementia
    Ankle Shanker
    Ashnod's Altar
    Aven Mindcensor
    Big Game Hunter
    Dictate of Erebos
    Dread Return
    Eidolon of Rhetoric
    Faerie Macabre
    Grave Pact
    Grenzo, Dungeon Warden
    Hanweir Garrison
    Hope of Ghirapur
    Ignition Team
    Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
    Leonin Relic-Warder
    Manic Vandal
    Necrotic Sliver
    Nim Deathmantle
    Noosegraf Mob
    Palisade Giant
    Ravos, Soultender (Will probably replace Mindclaw Shaman in the sideboard)
    Reforge the Soul
    Retribution of the Meek
    Sadistic Hypnotist
    Siege-Gang Commander
    Stoneforge Mystic
    Sword of Feast and Famine
    Sword of Fire and Ice
    Sword of Light and Shadow
    Sword of the Animist
    Unburial Rites
    Vampire Hexmage
    Vampiric Rites
    War Priest of Thune
    Wear / Tear
    Wheel of Fortune
    Yahenni, Undying Partisan


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    Date added 1 year
    Last updated 2 days

    This deck is Commander / EDH legal.

    Cards 100
    Avg. CMC 2.58
    Tokens 2/2 Zombie, Liliana
    Folders EDH Active, edh ideas, EDH Ideas, EDH, Interesting Commander Decks, Alesha, alesha, edh, EDH
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