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The Five Laws of NecroWarfare: A ZomboCombo Primer

Commander / EDH* Combo Infinite Combo Primer Tribal U/B (Dimir) Zombie

ElspethOfValeron


Description

"Here is a foot covered in gout. It reminded me of your personality." - Geralf Cecani

"I am one of the most talented ghoulcallers of our time - I am capable of feats you only dream you could do. (I've heard you try to whistle - it's pathetic!)" - Gisa Cecani


The Five Laws of NecroWarfare

  • No spontaneous awakenings.
  • No luring, killing, and raising of bystanders or livestock.
  • Combatants face off at a predetermined place and time.
  • Combatants must have at least three limbs to play.
  • Headquarters are off limits.


Gisa and Geralf Cecani are finally back, putting their differences aside to survive the Eldrazi assaulting Innistrad. The Nephalian siblings' new card is everything we've ever wanted in a tribal commander: It supports the tribe's strategy on many levels, and in a way that's much more powerful than a lot of the cards that have come before it, plus supports lots of different build styles.

I've never been a fan of tribal decks. They usually feel like forced attempts to jam in synergy, whether it's good or not. Zombie tribal itself doesn't interest me in and of itself, either. Gisa and Geralf, though, do interest me. From their incredible artwork, to their elegent design, to their potential for multiple build paths, they're my absolute ideal sort of legend. The moment I saw them, I knew I had to build them.

My Gisa and Geralf deck is a different sort of deck than most - I call its archetype "zombo-combo", which is a lot like it sounds - a combo deck where all the combos involve zombies. It's first and foremost a combo deck, using zombies to stitch together some long, mad chain of tutors, draws, sacrifices, and more, to set up an infinite combo and kill everyone in one turn. Most (nearly all) of the deck's win conditions are infinite combos, all involving classic zombie combo enablers Gravecrawler and Rooftop Storm. When not comboing off (or when getting to that point), the deck leans on Gisa and Geralf's recursion ability, repeatedly reusing effects strapped onto creatures - some good examples are Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Custodi Lich. Supporting that shell is a bunch of card draw, removal, and permission - the UB standard. Mix it all together, and we've got a deck.

This deck is divided into nine custom categories, which I've given lore-based names, as I like to do with my decklists. A brief rundown of what these categories are (and why they're named as they are):
  1. Decisions, Decisions - This category is the deck's removal and control suite. It includes all of our counter magic, all of our removal, our board wipes, and a few miscellaneous "make your opponents' lives harder" cards, such as Fleshbag Marauder. Named after the flavour text on the Avacyn Restored version of Bone Splinters, spoken by Gisa.

  2. Graverobbing - This is the deck's tutor package. As a combo deck, it packs a lot of tutors, so that it can find all of its pieces. Several of these are recurrable creatures, while most are instants and sorceries. Named after the general idea of plundering tombs in order to get what one needs in order to make more zombies.

  3. Stitching - This category is our sacrifice outlets. As a graveyard-based deck, sacrificing creatures at will is incredibly important; these are the cards that allow us to do so at will. All of these except Attrition can serve as part of a game-winning combo; being able to sacrifice without any cost is very important for sacrifice outlets in this deck, and Attrition only sneaks in because its effect is so powerful. Notably, this category excludes sacrifice outlets High Market and Phyrexian Tower, which are included with the rest of the land. This category is named after the form of necromancy practiced by Geralf, which involves tearing down corpses and stitching them together into something more powerful.

  4. Moorlands - The deck's lands. Nothing to talk about here; lands produce mana which cast spells, and utility lands are powerful. Named after the Moorlands region of Gavony, where Gisa and Geralf make their homes.

  5. Genius and Madness - This is one of the more loose categories. Basically, it's every card that serves the primary purpose of enabling a game-winning combo. Named after the idea that both Cecani siblings are incredibly intelligent and capable in their own ways, but also quite mad; this contrast is represented in the desperate, crazy infinite combos that the deck strings together.

  6. Nephalian Treasures - The deck's ramp package, which every EDH deck needs in order to function. Named with the idea of the category being relics salvaged from the siblings' old family manor in Nephalia.

  7. A Consequence of Practice - The card draw in the deck, something that both Blue and Black excel at. Includes both repeatable sources of draw and one-off draw spells. Named after the flavour text on Advanced Stitchwing, spoken by Geralf.

  8. Whistling - All the ways that the deck has to recur creatures outside of its commander, as well as two key cards (Recall and Yawgmoth's Will) that allow us to replay combo pieces and other key non-creature cards that are destroyed, milled, countered, or otherwise disrupted. Named after the form of necromancy practiced by Gisa, which seems to involve physically whistling to corpses in order to raise them from the dead as-is, which is significantly faster and less involved than stitching, but results in less precision.

  9. Ready to Serve - The loosest category in the deck, this category is more or less everything that wouldn't fit into the other categories. These cards are just miscellaneous value pieces that serve some really useful purpose in the deck, but don't directly advance its main game plan. Named after the flavour text on Ghoulcaller's Chant, spoken by Gisa.

I'll state the obvious: Zombo-Combo is not the most powerful thing you can be doing in EDH. There are a thousand and one more powerful combo decks helmed by more powerful combo commanders in the format. The reason I chose Zombo-Combo as the archetype to invest my time, effort and money into is the same reason a lot of us do stupid, janky things in this format: It's really, really fun.

Playing Yidris Storm or Boonweaver Karador or whatever is all well and good, but there's something intensely satisfying about playing a combo deck that's entirely unexpected by your opponents, as well as one that's entirely your own. While the combos that win me games have existed for as long as their cards have, this deck is uniquely my own. That's not to say that it's a wholly original idea, or that nobody else has ever done it, or even that I coined the phrase "Zombo-Combo" (I definitely didn't), but rather that this deck is entirely the product of my own time and effort. I began building it literally within half an hour of Gisa and Geralf being spoiled during EMN spoiler season, and have been refining, tuning and retooling it ever since. It is the Magic deck that I'm most proud of, by far, and that makes the archetype one worth sticking with.

"Why Zombo-Combo" has another question attached to it, though: Why play Gisa and Geralf as a combo deck, instead of aggro or midrange? Well, the answer to that is simple: I believe that it is, by far, the best archetype for Gisa and Geralf. Midrange Gisa and Geralf decks are slow, clunky, and easily outvalued by the better midrange engines in Commander (Meren, Karador, etc.). Aggro Gisa and Geralf is, well, an aggro deck, something that I believe is rarely good in this format. Zombo-Combo allows us to play a value game like a midrange deck, amass a zombie horde like an aggro deck, and do all the fun things zombies usually get to do, but this archetype lets us effectively close out games in a way other archetypes can't. This deck is powerful enough to hold its own a mid-to-high powered tables, and that's something most zombie decks can't claim.

I've been asked this question before, and likely will be asked it again: Why do I choose Gisa and Geralf to command this deck, instead of any number of other candidates? The answer is obvious (I think that they're the best commander for the deck), but let's look at why.

The best way to answer this question is to look at the other options for zombie tribal commanders, so let's lay them out. There are two key contenders in the realm of Blue/Black zombie tribal: The Scarab God and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born.

The Scarab God is most people's answer for "the commander you should be playing zombies with", so I'll spend a chunk of time explaining why I believe that Gisa and Geralf is better than The Scarab God for this specific archetype. There's no denying that The Scarab God is an incredibly powerful card - I have it in the 99 of this deck, and it's probably in contention for one of the best cards in the deck. Its first ability allows you to stack your deck and burn opponents for sometimes ridiculous levels, and its second ability lets you recur creatures, just like Gisa and Geralf's. Furthermore, its second ability lets you get opponents' creatures as well, and it even comes with a third ability that makes it incredibly difficult to permanently kill. So why do I think Gisa and Geralf is better for this archetype? The answer: Their recursion ability is more streamlined, more abusable, more valuable over a long game, and better suited to the archetype than The Scarab God's.

The key thing about The Scarab God's recursion ability is that it exiles the creature that it recurs. You get a single activation on a single creature, and that's it. This deck loves to recur creatures multiple times. It's at its best when spamming Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Noosegraf Mob, Fleshbag Marauder, Corpse Augur, etc. In addition, its repeatable tutors, Corpse Connoisseur and Sidisi, Undead Vizier, are often chained multiple times in order to find enough pieces to close out a game. The Scarab God's ability being one-and-done on every creature is incredibly limiting for this deck's gameplan, in a way that being at instant speed and allowing stealing opponents' creatures just doesn't make up for. It's my opinion that The Scarab God is best played in generic, non-zombie UB control decks, or more midrange/aggro zombie decks that can further benefit from stealing opponents' creatures and making its own creatures 4/4s. Gisa and Geralf remain the monarchs of Zombo-Combo.

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born is another frequent contender for combo-oriented zombie decks. It is, after all, a combo piece in and of itself, and turns Gravecrawler + Rooftop Storm into a two-card combo. Though I run him in my 99, I would never even consider him for a Zombo-Combo commander - he just doesn't do enough. He's a powerful sac outlet and piece of removal on a stick, but there are many cards that can give the same effect easily, without losing access to a more powerful ability in the command zone. While he does make one of our combos a two-card combo, we're in Blue/Black, and have access to many of the best tutors in the game, access that we make full use of. We simply don't need a combo piece in the command zone.

In the end, Gisa and Geralf provide utility that no other zombie commander really does, utility that Zombo-Combo makes full use of. This deck could not operate to the same level of efficiency with anyone else in the command zone.

Even the strongest of feuds have their limits. It took an apocalypse, but Geralf and Gisa Cecani finally started throwing zombies at someone besides each other.

Little is known of the siblings' past. They were born into a noble family, and their mother, Gretchen Cecani, was a necromancer, a fact that seemingly went undiscovered by the rest of Innistrad. Raised in the Nephalian countryside, the pair at one time lived within the walls of Thraben, Innistrad's largest and most important city. After a hushed scandal, they were banished from the city, and now make their homes in the Moorlands, the vast, sparsely populated plains of Gavony that sprawl out from beyond the Nearheath.

Gisa and Geralf are both necromancers, though they practice their trade in very different ways. Geralf is the sort of necromancer known as a "stitcher". Comparable to Victor Frankenstein, stitchers such as Geralf take the most choice bits from various corpses, from different bodies and even different species, and combine it all together to form monstrous amalgamations, which are given life through notably scientific methods. These amalgamations are referred to as "skaabs". Geralf learned some of his techniques from famous necromancer Ludevic, whom Geralf idolizes and considers a genius (think of him as the Doctor Pretorius to Geralf's Frankenstein). Gisa, meanwhile, is what is known in Innistrad as a "ghoulcaller". Her necromancy is simpler and more primal, involving raising dead corpses and using them as they come. While this allows for less finesse, it's also faster and less involved, making it easier to raise more corpses. Ghoulcalling seems to involve whistling in some way. It is likely that this is why Gisa always carries around her shovel - unlike the necromancy of someone like Liliana Vess, Gisa needs to dig up a corpse, so that it can "hear" the whistling involved in her necromancy.

Geralf and Gisa have carried a bitter rivalry for years. While mean-spirited in nature, this rivalry is based more on jabs and insults than any sort of real fighting. This rivalry is put to the test in something the siblings call NecroWarfare. A sort of play war, the siblings each raise armies and send them at each other across the Moorlands. Geralf has tried to define set rules for these battles, called "The Five Laws of NecroWarfare" (listed above). Gisa doesn't particularly care, and regularly violates them, often just to get under her brother's skin.

The siblings put their mock war on hold during the disappearance of Avacyn. Geralf, in his ambition, decided to take advantage of the Church's state of chaos and attack their home city of Thraben. He invited his sister to join him, and together, the two marched on the holy city with an army of the undead. As the siege began, Geralf left his sister's side, sneaking into the city. He was, during this trip into the city, responsible for the murder of Grand Lunarch Mikaeus, whom Liliana Vess would later reanimate. Gisa, meanwhile, was left in charge of the siege, taking control of Geralf's skaabs and her own zombies, and leading them into the city. While the battle was initially successful, her army was soon beaten back, and then systematically killed off or scattered. Gisa was captured during the battle, while her brother was able to sneak away.

Some time later, after the return of Avacyn from the Helvault, Gisa was being carried through the Moorlands in a prisoner transport, when a group of skaabs sent by Geralf attacked, allowing Gisa to slip away in the chaos. After visiting her family's old manor in Nephalia and resurrecting their parents, Gisa met the planeswalker Nahiri, who, she decided, was her new best friend. While Geralf furthered his studies under Ludevic, Gisa raised an army of workers for Nahiri, which would be put to work on the lithomancer's cryptolith network.

Soon, Nahiri's endgame would be revealed, and the dreaded Eldrazi titan Emrakul, the Promised End, would be summoned to Innistrad, corrupting large portions of the plane's population, and unleashing an onslaught of its brood. This onslaught was finally enough for Gisa and Geralf to put their differences aside, as the two stood together against the horrors that surrounded them.

Gisa and Geralf is four mana - two generic, a black, and a blue - for a 4/4 Legendary Human Wizard. When Gisa and Geralf enter the battlefield, their controller (us) puts the top four cards of their library into their graveyard. In addition, while Gisa and Geralf remain on the battlefield, their controller may cast one Zombie creature card from their graveyard on each of their turns.

Their ability isn't as immediately attractive as the abilities on this card's predecessors, Ghoulcaller Gisa and Stitcher Geralf, but it's much more powerful. Their self-mill ability allows us to fill our graveyard with zombies ready for recursion - but that's just icing on top of their main ability. Their ability to recur zombies is what really makes them powerful. A surprising amount of great value creatures happen to be zombies. Sidisi, Undead Vizier, already one of the game's best tutors? Gray Merchant of Asphodel, already a major win condition in many decks? Both zombies.

While not fancy, Gisa and Geralf are extremely fairly costed, and their ability is fantastic. Basically a tribal version of Karador, Ghost Chieftain, they work amazingly with their tribe, and pump out ridiculous value over the course of a game if left unchecked.

The deck is, of course, zombie tribal. So let's look at what zombies actually do, and what makes them different from other tribes.

The biggest thing zombies do is about what you'd think - play around with the graveyard. Zombies love self-mill and recursion. They love a full graveyard, and they love bringing themselves back from it. This Gisa and Geralf fit right in with the tribe - they do something zombies already want to be doing.

Zombies as a tribe are mostly small creatures. Most zombies aren't big or splashy, and so, the deck isn't going to be winning on the backs of a few creatures. What zombies do extremely well, however, is swarm the board. This deck is explicitly not combat-focused, and is not an aggro swarm deck, but still often manages to get a sizable horde of zombies together. Zombies love to swarm - it's what they do.

This deck is a combo deck with midrange value and control elements, built around Gisa and Geralf's recursion. Our creatures can roughly be sorted into three different categories: Zombies that control the board, zombies that enable combo, and zombies that give us value (tutor for something, draw us cards, work as a sac outlet, etc).

Please note that I am a strong proponent of the 75% deckbuilding philosophy, as first detailed by Jason Alt. While I don't always stick to it as well as I should, I try. Because of that, this deck isn't cutthroat competitive. It can be disrupted. It can lose. It won't always be consistent. This is a feature, not a bug. If I wanted to win with a turn four combo every game, I would play Boonweaver Karador or something. This may be an infinite combo deck, but it's designed so that decks both below and above its power level can play against it and have a good time. With that said, it's not entirely 75%. It is probably more consistent than the ideal 75% deck should be. There is a certain amount of lowered power level than what's strictly possible, though, so keep that in mind.

The deck's main win condition is combo. This is not the sort of deck for anyone with a grudge against infinite combo. The deck is mostly designed to durdle, control, and get value while working toward a combo. We control the board and set up an army mostly as a way to survive and find our combo pieces, as well as try to stop what our opponents are doing. The deck is designed to win, if it's not hated out, around turn seven to turn twelve, through its combos.

These infinite combos mostly involve one of two cards: Gravecrawler, or Rooftop Storm. While not enough to match up against disruption in more competitive metas, in the 75%-ish ones I play in, the fact that Gravecrawler can be recurred and Rooftop Storm usually wins on the spot means these combos are decently resilient. Our win conditions using these combos include two storm cards - Tendrils of Agony and Brain Freeze - as well as the game's only gravestorm card, Bitter Ordeal. The Gravecrawler combo can win outright with a Diregraf Captain on board.

Another win condition - one of our only ways we can typically win without combo - is Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Gary is great in most black decks, and he's amazing when you can recur him every turn (just ask Alesha players, which I also happen to be).

"Which do you deserve, the heft of a femur or the graceful sharpness of a forearm? Decisions, decisions..." - Gisa the Mad

This is the deck's control suite. Removal, counterspells, and general disruption, so that we can protect ourselves and keep our opponents from winning before we can.

  • Arcane Denial - I would argue that this is one of the best counterspells in the format. It's easier to cast than straight Counterspell, and it replaces itself. It draws your opponent two cards, but in my opinion, that's actually a good thing - it makes the counter sting less for your opponent, thus making them less of an enemy and keeping your political situation more favourable.

  • Counterspell - The one, the only, the original. Not too much to say about this one - it stops anything for two mana. Actually probably worse than a few other counters in this deck for various reasons, but its versatility means it makes the cut.

  • Cryptic Command - It's four mana and it's hard to cast at UUU, but its versatility is worth it. It can be a counterspell, a way to deal with a problematic permanent (albeit temporarily), a way to save a turn of damage or get rid of a problematic tap ability, and to draw a card, and better yet, can do two of those things at once. It's a card usually reserved for more control-focused decks, but has a lot of great applications for a combo deck like this one.

  • Curse of the Swine - This is one of my favourite removal spells. It exiles, which is SUPER relevant in this format, it's pretty cheap, it can hit multiple creatures, the tokens it gives our opponents aren't very relevant in EDH (2/2s are so easily outclassed), and, best of all, it makes PIGS! There's nothing better than taking your opponent's precious Blightsteel Colossus that they worked so hard to get and leaving them with a pig instead.

  • Cyclonic Rift - This is both decent spot removal in a pinch, and one of the best board wipes in the format. Overloading it can easily win a game on its own, and its flexibility makes it a format staple.

  • Damnation - No muss, no fuss, kills everything. Somewhat affordable now!

  • Fleshbag Marauder - This guy is kind of weird in terms of power level; sometimes he'll be an absolute house, and other times he'll do nothing. For the former cases, you get times when your opponents are playing voltron, or only a few creatures, all of which they really want to keep around. For the latter times, you have an opponent playing a token strategy, and they just sac a 1/1 token, and you get sad. Still, when he's good, he's really good, and the ability to play him every turn makes him great for attrition battles.

  • Muddle the Mixture - So, transmute is one of my favourite mechanics in all of Magic. I love flexible cards, and I love tutors, and transmute gives you a regular card that's also a tutor if you need one. The whole mechanic makes me giddy. Muddle the Mixture is up there with Dimir House Guard as one of the best exemplars of the mechanic - not only is it a tutor, but it's also a two mana counterspell that hits 90% of the things we need to hit in order to protect our combos or our commander. It also hits a lot of important cards off of its transmute; Arcane Denial or Counterspell for a hard counter, Brain Freeze for a win condition, Curse of the Swine or Reality Shift for removal, several hard tutors, and even Talisman of Dominance for fixing in a really tight spot. Its versatility and flexibility are through the roof, which earns it a solid spot on this list.

  • Nevinyrral's Disk - Let me tell you a secret: Neither Blue nor Black is very good at answering artifacts or enchantments. In fact, they're both pretty terrible at it. A single Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void can sometimes be enough to single-handedly remove us from the game. Luckily, Nevinyrral created a Disk just for us - this card is both a regular old board wipe, and a colourless answer to the permanents we absolutely cannot deal with in most circumstances.

  • Pact of Negation - This Modern staple finds a home here for the same reason that it does in Modern Ad Nauseam - it protects our combo for free. Its cost isn't high to pay in a go-long format like EDH, and though taking a turn mostly off for it sucks, it's a card that will get us out of game-losing situations in a pickle. Better yet, it protects our combo the turn we go off, when we're about to win and thus don't care about the mana, which we'll never have to pay. Just gotta be sure to leave a dice on top of the deck so as to not forget that trigger.

  • Reality Shift - Blue continues its trend of getting better EDH removal than Black, the colour of removal. For two mana at instant speed, any creature in the game is gone. Like I said earlier, exile is REALLY important in EDH, so this card is an amazingly effective answer. Gives them a manifest, but a lot of the time that's just going to be an irrelevant 2/2, and at worst (worst being the manifest turning out to be a creature), we drew them card - but even then, denied on-cast and ETB effects for that creature.

  • Skinrender - Don't laugh, he's a legitimate card! You'd be surprised at all the relevant creatures with three toughness or less in EDH, and this little abomination deals with those readily. Moreover, he gives -1/-1 counters instead of dealing damage - thus, his effect is very relevant even on creatures with more than three toughness. Recurring him every turn can shrink huge threats down into jokes, and pick off a lot of relevant utility creatures.

  • Stronghold Assassin - This terrifying zombie pulls double duty. Not only does he let us Doom Blade a creature every turn, he also acts as a sac outlet (remember, sacrificing is a pro in this deck, not a con). Great value for only three mana, even if the tap requirement makes him a little bit slow.

  • Swan Song - Pact of Negation's little Greek brother, Swan Song is an amazing way to protect our commander and our combo for just one mana, making it perfect for turns where we're going off. Like Reality Shift and Curse of the Swine, a 2/2 just does not matter in EDH, even when it's in the air.

  • Toxic Deluge - This is just the single best board wipe in EDH. For three mana we get to kill anything we could want, including indestructible creatures - plus it scales, allowing us the option of, say, killing all three-toughness creatures while leaving Gisa and Geralf alive. Its life cost is pretty insignificant with the life totals we start at in this format.

  • Tragic Slip - This kills almost anything in the game, including indestructible creatures, for only one mana. All it needs is for something to die, which is something that this deck wants to have happening all the time anyway. Granted, sometimes its morbid requirement can awkward when we don't have something we want to sacrifice on board (or just have no way of sacrificing something), but the card's ceiling is just so high.

"The Blessed Sleep? Ha! Wake up my lovelies, there's work to be done!" - Gisa, ghoulcaller of Gavony

Sometimes, our combo can't quite come together, and we need a little extra push. That's what these cards are here for.

  • Cackling Counterpart - A three mana copy at instant speed, with flashback, is just awesome. While it doesn't have the explosive potential of Rite of Replication, the utility that it affords by being instant speed is incredible. Being able to have a second copy of any creature we control at any time is a really great tool to have access to.

  • Diregraf Captain - One of the very few lords in the deck, Diregraft Captain pumps all of our other zombies up, as well as gets value over time by making opponents lose life when our zombies die (which is often). He also is a win condition with our Gravecrawler combo, which makes him doubly useful, and is a good deathtouching blocker (deathtouchers are hard to overrate in EDH), making him triply useful.

  • Gray Merchant of Asphodel - Gary, my love. For five mana, you get to drain your board for anywhere from two to approximately a billion. Recurring him every turn for a while is a great win condition, and he also pads your life total really well. He's the ultimate value zombie, and we love him for that.

  • Noosegraf Mob - Remember, we aren't an aggro deck. We don't want to make a swarm of zombies and attack for lethal. That said, zombie tokens still have many uses - chump blocking and sacrifice fodder are the two most important. In fact, 2/2 zombie tokens are probably the most important resource in this deck. Thus, the deck really needs one way of consistently, passively generating tokens, and that's Noosegraf Mob. It's by far the best option for that role - Diregraf Colossus and Grave Titan are both close seconds, but the former is too dead in certain situations, and the latter isn't a zombie and thus isn't recurrable by Gisa and Geralf. Noosegraf lets us drop it, and then requires no further effort as we get five tokens, and then recur it and do it again.

"I'll return once you've ripened." - Ghoulcaller Gisa

In good old skaaberen tradition, if we want to build an army up, first we have to tear it down. These are our sacrifice outlets (note that these are only easily repeatable ones, and we do have other, once-a-turn or one-off outlets in other categories).

Sacrificing is very, very important in this deck, for three big reasons: It lets us getvalue creatures into the graveyard to be recurred again, it's a central piece of a lot of our combos, and, the often underlooked EDH reason to run sac outlets, it lets us to save our creatures from exile/steal effects.

  • Ashnod's Altar - The EDH staple sac outlet, Ashnod's Altar's unconditional sacrifice plus its ability to make a ton of mana make for a really great sac outlet. It's ramp as well as an outlet, which is a really great combination.

  • Attrition - This card is kind of in a weird place for me. A lot of the time, I would advise people away from running it - one mana can be a steep price to pay for sacrificing creatures, and this card doesn't let us go infinite in any situation. But, outside of combos, this deck doesn't want to be sacrificng as much as, say, my Alesha deck (where I don't run this), and having access to on-demand repeatable spot removal is just so powerful, so it makes the cut.

  • Carrion Feeder - Yes, it's a worse one mana sac outlet than Viscera Seer in a vacuum, but its ability to be recurred after a board wipe or spot removal or Skullclamping it or any number of other things makes it very good in this deck. Also, it can potentially get infinitely big with a few of our combos.

  • Grimgrin, Corpse-Born - Like a much more expensive Carrion Feeder, except he's also a ridiculously awesome beater, and is good spot removal. Yes, his mana cost is a big concern, but he's good regardless - and besides, how could I build a Gisa and Geralf deck without including the one creation they built together?

  • Phyrexian Altar - The best sac outlet in the deck. An Ashnod's Altar that makes coloured mana, this card lets us cast a lot of our interaction that Ashnod's Altar doesn't when tapped out, and, importantly, is also a key part of the deck's most easily-assembled combo.

"Let those idiot priests tremble! A new era in unlife begins here and now. Oglor, raise the lightning vane!" - Stitcher Geralf

This category represents Geralf's crazed genius and Gisa's dark necromancy - or, in game terms, our winning infinite combos, and the cards that we use to actually win the game once we have a combo together.

  • Bitter Ordeal - A win condition. I'm a big fan of this one; it's cheaper than Tendrils of Agony and, unlike Brain Freeze, doesn't get hosed by ROE Eldrazi titans. It can also just screw up an opposing combo player's gameplan in a pinch. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with all of our combos, which is the only thing keeping it from being the deck's best win condition.

  • Brain Freeze - This isn't the best win condition, because, like I mentioned before, it gets wrecked by ROE titans. Still, it works with every combo in the deck, and, importantly, is only two mana - this is really important, since, on a lot of combo turns, we'll be down to our last few mana, and sometimes won't have the mana to cast Tendrils.

  • Cloudstone Curio - A curios (ha, see what I did there) little artifact. It enables one niche little infinite combo with Rooftop Storm - not enough to get a spot on its own, but the fact that it also lets us buy back ETB effects on our zombies makes it good enough.

  • Gravecrawler - One of our two ultimate enablers. This unassuming, legless little zombie goes infinite with a few cards, and for only one mana, that's incredible. It can't really be overstated how good a one-mana combo enabler is in this deck. Plus, he gets a ridiculous amount of value with sac outlets and Skullclamp.

  • Rooftop Storm - The other ultimate enabler. Probably the most versatile combo piece in the deck - unfortunately, also the most expensive. It can also just be played for value; casting all of our zombies for free is wild. Unfortunately, we usually have to try to win with it the turn it comes down, because it draws spot removal fast. Fortunately, it's not that hard to win with it the turn it comes down.

  • Sedraxis Alchemist - Another bit of draft chaff that kinda just works. "Spot removal" of a sort in a pinch, that also goes infinite with Rooftop Storm. That sort of flexibility is really valuable.

  • Tendrils of Agony - Unfortunately expensive, but goes infinite with all of our combos, and isn't weak to anti-mill effects. Also, the Volkan Baga art is sweet.

"Geralf, must you always whine? I agreed to nothing. I'll raise ghouls anytime I wish." - Gisa Cecani

This part of the deck reprsents Gisa's whistling, calling the dead out of their graves. It's our recursion package that doesn't rely on Gisa and Geralf to function.

  • Coffin Queen - Her ability to grab anything from any player's graveyard for just three mana is awesome, especially since you can reuse her if a juicier target comes along. Can also be Skullclamped, which is not irrelevant!

  • liliana, death's majesty - All hail the zombie queen! I've wanted to run a Liliana of some sort in this deck for so long, and wow, does her Amonkhet incarnation fit the bill. She makes 2/2 zombies (which, as I explained in the Noosegraf Mob section, really shouldn't be undervalued), and mills us to get us more zombies in our graveyard, and recurs anything from our graveyard for free, and her ultimate can even be a win condition if we get a good horde going and our opponents can't deal with her! She's the total package; even her art is incredible. She was born to be in every zombie EDH deck, from traditional aggro swarm decks to dredge-style decks to even combo decks like this one.

  • Mikaeus, the Unhallowed - Mikaeus is straight value. He buffs every single one of our creatures besides our commander, is an effective pillowfort effect, beats in well, and, most importantly, lets us reuse our ETB and leave the battlefield effects. That sort of power is worth six mana.

  • Recall - This deck relies heavily on permanents to combo off, and not all of those permanents are zombies that can be easily recurred. When those permanents get removed or milled, we need a way to get them back - that's what Recall, and its more powerful cousin down below, are for.

  • Relentless Dead - A surprisingly powerful card. Being a bear with menace doesn't matter in EDH like it does in Standard, but its ability to come back after being sacrificed for value, plus its ability to resue other zombies from the graveyard, make it a house for just two mana.

  • The Scarab God - A possible alternate commander for the deck, I'm convinced that Gisa and Geralf are better as a general, but The Scarab God is still a house in the 99. It does a lot of things - gives us tons of card selection, burns our opponents down (providing a nice alternate win condition), lets us steal our opponents creatures or reanimate ours once if we're desperate, and provide a nice body that's hard to get rid of. It attacks from multiple angles, each of them providing something great.

  • Yawgmoth's Will - See the Recall description, though YawgWill is quite a bit more powerful than Recall is.

"Soft dirt makes for light work." - Gisa Cecani

The grave holds many secrets, as Gisa could tell you. This section is the deck's tutor package, which is very important for a combo deck to have if it wants to be at all consistent. I also just happen to love playing with tutors for the toolbox-y value and the ability to decide how I play each game, so I play a lot of them.

  • Buried Alive - Ultimate value! Three creatures in the gravyard (read: our hand) for three mana. Not quite as ridiculous here as in some graveyard decks, but it puts in work.

  • Corpse Connoisseur - What's better than Entomb? Repeatable Entomb! Repeatable Entomb that we can find off of Entomb! And then sacrifice for value and stuff!

  • Corpse Harvester - This card packs so much value into one ability it makes me get all hot and steamy. Two mana and a sacrifice (which, again, is a good thing in this deck, not a bad thing) gets us a zombie and a land, every turn. Corpse Harvester can outgrind the entire table if left unchecked. He's a little expensive and a little slow, but that hardly matters when you're getting this much value.

  • Demonic Tutor - The one and only original, best tutor. Accept no subsitutes. Two mana gets any card from the deck at any moment. The ultimate in toolbox value, and also lets us get combo pieces, naturally.

  • Diabolic Intent - Demonic Tutor that also requires us to (read: allows us to) sacrifice a creature.

  • Entomb - Much like Buried Alive, but being instant speed is a huge boon. Also, this can fetch any card, not just creatures, which can be really relevant if we have YawgWill or Recall in hand.

  • Lim-Dul's Vault - I really, really love this card. In my eyes, it's a reason to be in UB. It lets us not only find any card, but also stack our next four draws. The life loss hardly matters in EDH, especially if we cast this right before winning the game.

  • Sidisi, Undead Vizier - Sidisi is actually, for my money, one of the best cards in Black, and I don't think I'd ever build a Black deck without her. She's an incredible blocker, lets us sacrifice a creature, and finds any card, all for just five mana. Absolutely ridiculously good - and made even better by being able to cast her repeatedly. She's honestly one of the main reasons to be in zombie tribal.

"Improvement is a consequence of practice." - Stitcher Geralf

We have much to learn from the dead. This section is the deck's card advantage engine, card draw, obviously, being one of the most important deckbuilding considerations in EDH.

  • Corpse Augur - A Commander 2015 star, Corpse Augur can draw many, many cards over the course of a game. He often draws three or four cards or more on each death, which is amazing just once, to say nothing of having that effect over and over.

  • Cryptbreaker - When this card was spoiled, a lot of my fellow Gisa and Geralf players were hyped about it. I didn't see it - but then I actually tried it out. It's deceptively powerful. One mana is an amazing rate, and its ability to draw cards, while worse than Phyrexian Arena, is still just so powerful. It also makes 2/2s, which, as I've said multiple times now, cannot be underestimated.

  • Custodi Lich - This card has been surprisingly powerful, in my experience. Getting to edict the most vulernable player on board while also setting up to draw an extra card each turn is very powerful. It gets much more powerful with Gisa and Geralf's ability, which lets us steal back the monarchy if it's taken, and lets us get another edict effect. Five mana is definitely worth that.

  • Dig Through Time - A card draw spell so powerful it was banned in Legacy and Modern, and restricted in Vintage. This deck will almost always fill up its graveyard quickly and efficiently, between its commander, self-mill effects, and just casting a lot of spells. This makes Dig Through Time incredibly easy to cast. It's worth this effort, as it's probably the single best instant speed draw spell in all of Magic.

  • Fact or Fiction - Not all card draw can be on Black permanents. We need to use Blue's card draw at some point, and this is one of the best card draw spells in the colour. Great for politics, and also just really fun to play with. Also, we can potentially dumb zombies from this into our graveyard, for extra value.

  • Forbidden Alchemy - Like Fact or Fiction, the nature of our deck makes this better, as we can dumb zombies into the graveyard. Getting the best of our top four at instant speed is really good, and being able to do it again later makes it that much better. It can also still be cast if it gets milled, which is awesome.

  • Graveborn Muse - This card is one of the premiere reasons to be in zombie tribal. She can and will draw an absolutely absurd amount of cards. Drawing six cards a turn is not unreasonable at all with her out. Notably, she's the one effect that we pay with our own life that we really need to be careful with, as she can take a lot of our life at once, and we don't get to control how much life we spend. Always have a sac outlet at the ready when she's on board.

  • Phyrexian Arena - Three mana for an extra card every single turn. Simple and reliable. The life loss is almost meaningless.

  • Rhystic Study - At absolute worst, this card makes everything that everyone casts cost one more to pay until it's gone. At best, it draws a lot of cards, and a decent amount of the time opponents will be forced by mana constraints to give us the card. It both draws cards efficiently and slows down other decks so that we have time to set up, which is some great efficiency. Does run the risk of painting a target on our back.

  • Skullclamp - Another card that broke Magic! Turns out, if the point of your deck is already to sacrifice creatures, a card that draws you cards whenever you do that is kinda bonkers. Notice how I've been specifically noting that a lot of creatures in this deck are strong because Skullclamp kills them? It's that good.

"I thought it might be best if I returned to the old family home in Nephalia. The rubble is all falling apart now, and it all still smells vaguely of smoke, dust, and preserving fluids. Some rooms are still habitable, but I couldn't stand to go into Father's study. The evidence of our parents' last scuffle still lines the walls." - Gisa Cecani

The vast resources Gisa and Gerlaf have access to, by virtue of their birth. This section is the ramp and fixing package of the deck.

  • Chromatic Lantern - Okay, so it's not at its best in a two-colour deck. But we have a lot of heavy Black spells, and this card can really help even out our mana base. Plus, there kind of just aren't better options for good fixing that aren't already in the deck.

  • Commander's Sphere - I honestly think this is an underrated card. Three mana fixing that draws a card, for no mana, even if it's tapped, feels really nice.

  • Dimir Signet - Decks should basically just play all the signets they can, after all. Two mana fixing and ramp!

  • Mind Stone - Two mana slight ramp that cashes itself in for a card later in the game. Not amazing, but necessary.

  • Sol Ring - You know this one. The EDH staple that every single deck that isn't Animar plays. A turn one Sol Ring advances us by a stupid amount.

  • Talisman of Dominance - The talismans are arguably better than the signets (please print enemy colour talismans WotC). They're like signets, but cost a life for coloured mana, but, relevantly, can be tapped on their own, without needing the weird mana filtering thing.

"Who else in this bloody hellhole of a parish has the capability to raise dozens of skaabs?!" - Geralf Cecani

The Moorlands region of Gavony, which Gisa and Geralf call their home. This is the deck's mana base. Most of the lands are just basic good duals, so this section will only explain lands with extra utility.

  • Gemstone Caverns - A card with an okay floor and an incredibly high ceiling. Worst case scenario, it's a colourless land that doesn't do anything. Best case scenario, though? It turns any card in our opener into a Mox Diamond. That upside is insane.

  • High Market - This is one of the best lands in EDH, honestly. Taps for mana while also being a sac outlet. What does it do when you sacrifice a creature to it? Who cares!

  • Phyrexian Tower - Okay, so this one might be better than High Market. It's the same thing, but its ability is actually relevant, and really good ramp in some situations.

  • Volrath's Stronghold - A bit of extra recursion value packed into the land base. We're two colour, so we can afford to run a bit of insurance for if we lose our commander in our land base.

Not all cards are created equal. I could only include ninety-nine cards in this list, so naturally, some good ones didn't make the cut. This is a section for all cards I considered running but did not, as well as some cards that others commonly use that I decided against, and why I decided against them.

Note that some cards, like Living Death or Army of the Damned, weren't included basically because I'm not an aggro deck. If I talk about cards like that in this section, it's cards either that I was considering at some point, or that I specifically wouldn't run over other cards of that type.

  • Call to the Grave - Way too expensive for its effect. It has a sort of neat grindy effect, but that effect can be had for better elsewhere.

  • Endless Ranks of the Dead - This card is bad. In combo decks, in midrange decks, in aggro decks. Bad, bad, bad. Please do not play this. It is absolutely dead without two zombies on board, and even then, it's super, super slow - it takes four zombies on board to start getting any value at all, and even then it takes a whole turn cycle to do anything, and it's really vulnerable, and it does absolutely nothing when you're behind. There are many, many better cards that you could be playing.

  • Force of Will - Seems like a shoe-in since Pact of Negation is already in here; we want free (or almost free) counters. The issue is, this deck is heavier on Black than it is on Blue - there simply aren't enough Blue cards in the deck to ensure that we can consistently cast Force of Will for free.

  • Ghoulcaller Gisa and Stitcher Geralf - These two are so cool, and believe me did I want to play them in their own deck. But they're both very slow, and don't do all that much outside of get creatures on board, which isn't my priority. Geralf is right out, as to get value out of him we have to exile our creatures, but Gisa is more enticing as a sac outlet. Unfortunately, she's just way too slow and vulnerable to removal, without enough payoff.

  • Lich Lord of Unx - He's extremely slow if you want value out of him. 1/1s don't do much in the aggro swarm builds that probably want him, and his second ability is expensive, especially in a deck where you almost always have something to do with your mana.

  • Necromancer's Stockpile - I can see the allure, but it's so very slow, for not all that much benefit.

  • Possessed Skaab - A really unfortunate card. It could have been one of the staples of the deck if it didn't exile itself on death. Unfortunately, it does, so it's kind of useless.

  • Prized Amalgam - Another card I don't think anyone should be playing. When playing tribal, there's this tendency for players to sort of jam in synergy because it's synergy, without stopping to consider whether or not it's actually good. Prized Amalgam is one of the best examples of this. Yes, it synergizes with Gisa and Geralf's ability. And what does that get you? A vanilla 3/3. That's just not worth a card slot.

  • Risen Executioner - Too expensive for a +1/+1 lord, and its recursion ability is pointless when our commander recurrs zombies anyway.

  • Secrets of the Dead - It's enticing how well this synergizes with Gisa and Geralf's ability, but one extra card a turn, conditionally, just isn't worth it in my eyes. We're in Blue and Black, THE best card draw colours. There are better ways to get cards in our hand.

  • Soulless One - See above Unbreathing Horde down below.

  • Unbreathing Horde - It's a big, dumb beater. It has a lot of text on it, but that's still all it is. It doesn't do anything or get any value except be big. Aggro decks can do better than that, much better.

A few cards I've considered for this list, and may experiment with in the future.

  • Agent of Erebos - Repeatable graveyard hate on a stick could be extremely useful, but at four mana and not doing much else, I would only run this in metas that focus very heavily on the graveyard.

  • Cemetery Reaper - I'm not huge on lords in this deck, and so don't particularly go out looking for them. That said, Cemetery Reaper is a good option for a lord, as he comes with both anti-graveyard tech against our opponents, and makes his own 2/2s.

  • Death Baron - May be worth adding in order to shore up defenses. Turning each and every 2/2 into a lethal blocker is a powerful ability.

  • Diregraf Colossus - I considered the Colossus, heavily. I really like including at least one continuous, passive zombie token generator in this deck, as 2/2s are a valuable resource. Unfortunately, I find that Colossus requires too much active effort to get its tokens when compared to Noosegraf Mob, and so left it out. It is, however, a very viable option.

  • Dread Return - Four mana to return any creature is pretty good; being able to return five- and six- drops from the graveyard at a discount is sweet. It's also insurance against Gisa and Geralf being removed. As a bonus, it can get back The Scarab God. What's even better is that, from the graveyard, it works as a sac outlet, and gets a second, free use.

  • Fatestitcher - Really great, versatile card, that can lock down opponents' threats, ramp us, and more. Possibly worth a slot.

  • Forgotten Creation - Lets us ditch a bad hand for a better one every turn, as well as get zombies in the graveyard and swap them out for new cards. Might be worth it for the power to dig through our deck fast, though the cost and slowness of it are considerations.

  • Havengul Lich - A possible backup to Gisa and Geralf. Its a fairly expensive card, but could be worth it to have redundancy in this sort of effect.

  • Necropotence - It may come as surprising that I'm not already running this; it is, after all, one of the most powerful card draw effects in Magic history. I was running it for a while, but the more I did, the more I began to realize that I rarely wanted to cast it. This deck can already draw a lot of cards with minimal effort; Necropotence is sort of overkill in that regard. It also has the unfortunate downside of making discarding cards for any reason exile them, which can be incredibly annoying to a graveyard deck. Furthermore, its life loss can be really impactful in a deck that only has Gray Merchant of Asphodel for lifegain. Finally, at triple black, it can be incredibly clunky to cast, and even when you do get it down, it's usually a big target for your opponents. Based on all of this, I replaced it with Dig Through Time, which, at instant speed and usually for only UU, lets us flat-out dig through our deck for the pieces that we need. No muss, no fuss. All of that said, Necropotence is still an incredibly powerful card, and very much worth running.

  • Rite of Replication - Versatile card that can win the game on its own. Notably synergizes very well with Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

  • Undead Warchief - This card was a consideration I definitely made during deckbuilding. A flat mana reduction is very powerful, as is the unusually strong anthem effect. Ultimately, I don't think that my personal list gets enough utility out of him to be worth four mana, but it is definitely worth a spot in many, or even most, zombie decks.

This deck is zombo-combo - our goal is to combo out, and everything else is a backup plan. Here's a helpful list and explanation of the combos I've included.

Obviously, a combo deck is not the only way to build Gisa and Geralf. The nature of their ability opens them up to a lot of different possible build paths. Here's some notable other directions to take them, as I see them:

Gisa and Geralf's ability lends them very well to playing a long, grindy game, repeatedly bringing creatures back and saccing them in order to value everyone else out of the game. This sort of build would actually involve a lot of the same cards as this deck does, as this deck does have elements of that. However, there are definitely ways to take it further. One good way is by adding more board wipes. Cards like Decree of Pain could bury opponents, as well as cards like Life's Finale and Black Sun's Zenith. Also very useful would be other ways to make opponents sacrifice creatures. Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos, as well as potentially Butcher of Malakir, would be very, very useful in this sort of build, allowing the deck to grind all other decks into oblivion. This sort of build could also take a more controlling slant, playing more counterspells, such as Insidious Will, Disallow, and Mystic Confluence. By putting in more of a removal/counter package, the deck could control the board very late into the game.

Other cards to consider: Conspiracy/Ashes of the Fallen for using non-zombie creatures, Victimize, Rite of Replication, Dark Salvation, Rise of the Dark Realms, Phyrexian Delver, Havengul Lich and Grave Betrayal. Call to the Grave could maybe even find a home here.

This deck style is pretty obvious. Put in all the lords there are, all the ways to make tons of tokens, and go wide.

Some of the best lords available include Lord of the Accursed, which gives your zombies evasion, Undead Warchief, which buffs them hard and reduces their costs, Lord of the Undead, which lets you recur them if Gisa and Geralf are unavailable, Death Baron, which gives them all deathtouch, and Metallic Mimic, which comes with a buff that doesn't go away if it gets removed. Shepherd of Rot can be a good way to quickly burn players out, as can Vengeful Dead with a sac outlet, and possibly Gempalm Polluter. Diregraf Colossus is a great way to generate tokens, as is Ghoulcaller Gisa, though she is rather slow. Zombie Master gives all your tokens evasion with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth out. Undead Alchemist can turn your threats into ways to grow your army, and then be sacced once you want damage back. Army of the Damned, Dark Salvation, and From Under the Floorboards can be used to make a large amount of tokens in one go. Patriarch's Bidding and Living Death can get your whole army back. Finally, Door of Destinies and Coat of Arms can massively buff your entire army.

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When I first made this deck, I was playing with two different groups - a very casual playgroup at home, and my group at my LGS. Since then, the first group has stopped playing Magic. Now, when I first made the deck, I created it with a backup plan of janky zombie horde aggro, because combo was, frankly, too strong for them. Well, now that they're gone, I find that zombie horde aggro far too weak for my group at the LGS. Thus, Five Laws 2.0 - a new, meaner, leaner list, devoted almost entirely to combo and control.

I'm also beginning to make the list into a primer, with a guide to the deck and a discussion of alternative cards and such.

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Date added 2 years
Last updated 5 months
Legality

This deck is Commander / EDH legal.

Cards 100
Avg. CMC 3.06
Tokens */* Generic, 2/2 Zombie, 2/2 Boar, Monarch, 1/1 Bird
Folders NetDecks, commander decks, Look at these brewmasters!, Zombies, EDH, Future Zombie deck to build, Commander, Stuff I like, Cute EDH, Commander Folder, See all 96
Top rank #1 on 2016-07-10
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Revision 15 See all

5 months ago)

-1 Muddle the Mixture main
-1 Pact of Negation main
-1 Swan Song main
-1 Curse of the Swine main
-1 Cryptic Command main
+1 Curse of the Swine main
-1 Arcane Denial main
-1 Necropotence main
+1 Arcane Denial main
+1 Skinrender main
-1 Stronghold Assassin main
+1 Cyclonic Rift main
-1 Damnation main
-1 Counterspell main
-1 Cyclonic Rift main
+1 Counterspell main
+1 Swan Song main
+1 Muddle the Mixture main
+1 Fleshbag Marauder main
-1 Fleshbag Marauder main
and 34 other change(s)