Mono-black spellslinger. This is a deck that performs far better than I expected it to when I first built it. Originally, I was just looking for fun. I built the deck because I was tired of winning a high percentage of games I played, and wanted to lose, but take some enemy creatures with me. As I started playing, however, I realized the deck is a secret powerhouse. I've won a lot of games with Toshiro Umezawa, and I’ve had fun losing the rest. He's an easy commander to underestimate, and he absolutely destroys creature based decks. If you enjoy controlling the board, and flashy, come-from-behind, clutch finishes, this deck is for you.

Primer: Edited Aug 28, 2020

So here's the plan. Let everyone think you aren't a threat. Play politics if you have to, and kill creatures whenever it becomes necessary, but don't waste resources. Kill creatures that swing at you, or in response to Lightning Greaves equipping, but don't just hit every creature that hits the board, or you'll run out of gas. Convince everyone that you're not worth the investment to attack - they'll lose creatures, and really, what are you doing to them anyway? Holding up mana, even when you don’t have kill spells in hand, is often the difference between winning and losing.

Meanwhile, don't miss land drops. Build up as much mana as you can, because in the late game, you'll need it to chain kill spells together, and you'll need it for Exsanguinate/Torment of Hailfire. A small caveat - while ramp early in the game is nice, be wary of tapping out to ramp. It’s better in this deck to delay that Crypt Ghast by a turn to make sure you can still threaten a response to the board. And while you’re threatening people, be on the lookout for creatures that you can resurrect to fight for you. Don't be afraid to pay life (sometimes a lot of it!) to get more cards in hand.

Well, we're mono black. Turns out we've got a lot of swamps. I'm really liking Geier Reach Sanitarium for its ability to dig, and fill my graveyard with extra kill spells. It also synergizes really well with Sangromancer. If it's in your budget, Cabal Coffers is obviously a must. I was running Magus of the Coffers for an extra punch, and he works as a budget version of the coffers if needed, although I think as more options become available, Magus loses some of its luster. Arcane Lighthouse and Detection Tower are also amazing here, since hexproof and shroud can be a real problem for us. I'm a huge fan of Liliana of the Dark Realms - worst case scenario, she kills a creature for us. Best case, she grabs us a bunch of lands, then ults to make them all tap for four. I'm running Crypt Ghast for extra mana, as well as Nirkana Revenant which has the added bonus of doubling as the biggest creature on the board. Solemn Simulacrum is, of course, just a commander staple in general - while we don't really care about the mana fixing, we do care about the ramp, and Solemn also serves as an excellent blocker - if it dies, you’ll just get a card out of the deal!

Gauntlet of Power is fantastic, as is Caged Sun, and Extraplanar Lens is a great option to run instead of or in addition to those. I'm rarely tempted to tap out for these extra mana producers, however, typically preferring to play then either while the coast is clear (no creatures that threaten me), or with some mana open to continue threatening kill spells.

In a similar line, I’ve been trying out Primal Amulet  . The static cost reduction is really nice when we need to chain a couple spells together, and when it transforms it can quickly become a nightmare for our opponents, turning relatively small Exsanguinate effects into lethal ones.

I've seen lists that run lands like Shizo, Death's Storehouse and Rogue's Passage and Reliquary Tower. None of these really appeal to me here - in most cases, I don't care about discarding, since I can reuse my instants, and the two unblockable lands are really only good if Plan A is to kill people with solitary, large creatures. I tried out Shizo for a bit, and I was not impressed - most of the time, it's just a swamp that doesn't benefit from my extra-mana effects. If you do choose to run these lands, you should also run things like Runechanter's Pike for loads of extra damage (going in a more voltron direction, typically), and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to keep your Cabal Coffers functioning well.

For I time I ran Deserted Temple. It’s a card with a high upside - it can give me an extra Cabal Coffers activation, or geier reach sanitarum activation, or even just untap a basic swamp after Liliana of the Dark Realms has ult'd, plus I can play politics to untap other people's lands if necessary. But frequently, it was a colorless source in a mono-color deck, and in the end I felt the occasional upside was not worth it.

Last note on mana, you could certainly choose to run Expedition Map (or any other black tutor, for that matter) as an extra way to find Cabal Coffers. While I tend to prefer overwhelming amounts of card draw to find the things I need (in most of my decks, not just this one), that's certainly a valuable option you could take, and would make the deck more consistently able to go off. I would caution against running out "Find Cabal Coffers" cards before turns 4-5 - you want Coffers to hit and immediately provide a lot of mana, not sit there threatening to eventually produce a lot of mana. Early game, Coffers is A) a reason to attack you, which you don't want, and B) a target for Field of Ruin et. al.

Resurrection can be a key part of this strategy, although I urge you not to overcommit to it. It’s more important to kill things than to reanimate them. There are two kinds of necromancy cards to consider - creature based, and non-creature based.

The resurrection creatures are designed to help us steal the creatures we kill, or to reanimate the creatures we lose. I'm presently running two options; Chainer, Dementia Master and Geth, Lord of the Vault. Both synergize nicely with the large amounts of mana we're seeking to generate. Geth serves more as a finisher than a reanimator, milling out our opponents piece by piece, but the creatures he grabs don't leave play if he does. Chainer, on the other hand, works wonderfully with Kokusho and Gray Merchant to provide us with a lot of life, and a powerful clock, but is more vulnerable to low life-totals and to removal.

In the past, I’ve used Demon of Dark Schemes, and I think that’s a fine option on a budget, or just as a third reanimator creature if you find you need more. It can certainly represent a lot of extra creatures hitting your side of the board in a very short amount of time. It does take a lot of resources to keep it going, however, since energy isn't a very abundant resource. In the past, I've also run Sepulchral Primordial and Liliana, Heretical Healer  , and both were fine additions for a time. If you run Liliana, be sure you have enough creatures to reliably flip her. In this list, she more often than not just ended up being a 2/3 lifelink for three.

For non-creature resurrection, I'm also running a very limited list. Grim Return is nice because although it limits us by only being able to get things that died that turn, it's also an instant, allowing us to use if for maximum effect with Toshiro.

I've tried in the past Command the Dreadhorde as a multiple Reanimate that I can tailor to whatever situation I'm in, and Rise of the Dark Realms as an alternate way to end the game. Spilling entire graveyards back onto the battlefield makes for a truly terrifying spell, and in the late game, both Rise and Command can give you a board that's simple unsurmountable. In general, however, I found running these to be trimming too much on the more-important removal side of the deck, and chose to limit my win-conditions to the spells we'll discuss later in the primer. However, there's nothing wrong with choosing these instead of the finishers I chose - I just wouldn't run them AS WELL as the finishers I chose.

Other options that I'm not running include Reanimate, Animate Dead or Necromancy, Phyrexian Delver, Phyrexian Reclamation, Beacon of Unrest, Rise from the Grave, and many more. Look for cards that can reanimate creatures from any graveyard, not just your own!

Do not underestimate these kinds of effects. When your job is to put things in graveyards, the ability to turn opponent's lost resources into fuel for your cause is invaluable. I've killed people with their own Void Winnowers and Gisela, Blade of Goldnights and Sun Titans and even one Sphinx of the Final Word because these cards just win games, plain and simple. That said, it's more important to be able to kill things than it is to revive them, so let's get on to the meat of the deck...

Well, resurrection's not much use if we aren't killing things, is it? The options here are really almost endless, so feel free to play around with the list. Some key options I recommend are:
Malicious Affliction. One shot, two kills.
Bile Blight. Goodbye token decks.
Hour of Glory, Dismember, Silence the Believers. All three get around indestructible, and are fantastic. Grasp of Darkness and Death Wind are alright for the same reasons, although they're much less powerful.
Hero's Demise. Did you know that almost every deck you face is going to have at least one legendary creature? Some of those legends might even be important.
Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Go for the Throat. The quintessential kill spells.
Slaughter. Did you know, you can pay the buyback when you cast it from your graveyard? Toshiro does NOT give actual flashback- he just says IF the card you cast goes to graveyard, exile it instead.
Killing Wave. Good as a board wipe in a pinch, but more frequently, it just starts a chain of kill spells. Our opponents will frequently pay life for some creatures, allow others to die, and then be shocked when we use those deaths to kill the creatures they paid to keep.

I HIGHLY recommend Hero's Downfall, To the Slaughter, Vraska's Contempt, and Ruinous Path for dealing with planeswalkers. You could also consider Murderous Rider, because although it doesn't get the full benefits of Toshiro, having a creature stapled on at the end means you're already getting your two-for-one value. There are a number of fantastic options for edicts, including Geth's Verdict and Diabolic Edict, but the versatility in To the Slaughter should not be underestimated.

Next let's talk about a card I would never have even thought about playtesting, much less recommending, before its recent reprint and errata in Double Masters - Oubliette. Previously just a worse Oblivion Ring for black, Oubliette's reprint A) makes it affordable and accessible in a way it just wasn't before, and B) also makes it a really really good card for commander. Why? Because phasing isn't a zone change. That's right, if I slap this down on your commander, your commander can't return to the command zone. It's just stuck, permanently, until you find a way to deal with the Oubliette, which many decks may be unable to do.

Speaking of which, I also strongly recommend Pharika's Libation, because black needs all the enchantment removal it can get. Is it perfect? No. But it's certainly better than nothing, and can snipe anything from opposing Oubliettes to Gods.

I'm separating these last three, because I cannot overstate how absolutely necessary they are for EVERY deck helmed by Toshiro Umezawa. When Akroma, Angel of Wrath or worse, Akroma's Memorial hit the field, these are your answers. When the artifact deck drops Mycosynth Lattice and Darksteel Forge, one of these is your way out. For planeswalkers, Doubling Seasons, Asceticisms, and Omnisciences, Gaea's Cradles, Glacial Chasms, and more, these are your saviors.

You MUST run Scour from Existence.
You MUST run Grip of Desolation.
You MUST run Spine of Ish Sah.

Oblivion Strike and is also an option for the same reasons, although not as effective at sorcery speed, as is Unstable Obelisk. Karn Liberated is a reasonable option as well, but I tend not to run him because the goal is to make attacking me NOT a good idea, and he draws a bit too much attention. The same goes for Ugin, the Ineffable, although his + ability can be quite good for this deck and I'd be more inclined to play him than Karn.

Ok, look. We're in mono black. Card advantage is kind of our thing. As with kill spells, there are a lot of options to choose from. Before I get into the options though, I want to talk about the importance of this section. This deck spends a lot of time trading one-for-one with our opponents. Usually, that's not a good thing, because if we run out of answers before they run out of threats, we lose. Toshiro's recycling certainly helps, but we need to be able to refill our hand reliably. I run 12 cards whose sole or primary purpose is drawing more cards, plus gier reach sanitarium for a bit of looting. Don't run fewer than 7.

Personally, I like both Ob Nixilis Reignited and Wretched Confluence because they double as kills in a pinch.

Succumb to Temptation, Skeletal Scrying, and Moonlight Bargain are all instant speed for extra value.

And who could forget Harvester of Souls. Get him to stick around for a few turns and he'll generate value both by drawing cards and, as a 5/5 Deathtouch, by being an excellent deterrent to attacks. Big thanks to betomindslav for pointing out Kothophed, Soul Hoarder, which could serve a similar role. I tend to like Harvester more than Kothophed, because Harvester gives us a bit more control over the situation, and doesn't cost us life. A lot of black draw requires payments in life, and it's nice to have one that doesn't here. More importantly though, Kothophed is not a "may" ability, which could leave us vulnerable to opposing sacrifice-based decks. That said, Kothophed is a fine alternative to/extra copy of the Harvester.

In general, don't be afraid to pay life to get cards. After all, who's going to attack YOU? Things like Erebos, God of the Dead, Greed, Arguel's Blood Fast  , Phyrexian Arena, Read the Bones, Sign in Blood, Ancient Craving, and Ambition's Cost are all wonderful options. Bloodtracker in particular, I've found to be an allstar, acting as a game-ending threat that your opponents don't want to remove.

Two often-overlooked options that I like are Moonlight Bargain - yes please, I'll look at the top five an filter them into my hand and graveyard as I see fit - and Scarab Feast - it draws a card when you don't need it, and it ruins that pesky reanimator player's day when you do. Cling to Dust could be a strong option as well for the same reason, also doubling as a minor amount of lifegain in a pinch.

I have five primary paths I consider win conditions. While any creature CAN win the game, these are the cards I'm looking for to kill quickly. They are, in order of Plan A to Plan E:
Torment of Hailfire. "Clear your board and hand or die. Wait how much is X? Clear your board and hand AND die."
Exsanguinate. Get lots of mana, drain the life from your foes.
Empty the Pits. End of an opponent's turn, dump a bunch of zombies into play, then untap and hit people.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel/Kokusho, the Evening Star. The less-reliable Exsanguinates. May take more than one application to be lethal. Best when they can be repeatedly killed and reanimated via Chainer, Dementia Master.
Geth, Lord of the Vault. Slower than the other options, Geth is still a powerful card that can get you victory by milling, or by simply reanimating too many large creatures to deal with. Or both.
A few non-kill spells to consider.

Withering Boon. Because no one likes Avacyn, Angel of Hope.
Sudden Spoiling. Good both as a last line of defense, and as a way to strip opposing creatures of pesky abilities like hexproof, protection, and indestructible.
Darkness. Like Sudden Spoiling, darkness buys us one turn. Toshiro makes it two.
Dash Hopes. Doesn't seem very good, does it? Sure, it won't stop someone from casting their game winning Genesis Wave. But it will cost them ten crucial life to resolve a spell that they probably want, but don't necessarily need to win immediately. The trick is learning when your opponent is right on the line about whether or not they'll pay. Or, waiting till they're under 10 life before using it. Be careful though - ANY player may pay the five life, not just the player casting the spell. More reasons to not make yourself into a target.
Glaring Spotlight. I like being able to target things. Do you like being able to target things?
Skeleton Key. Hilarious with Toshiro. Everyone forgets about the Bushido. With this equipment, Toshiro survives every attack (well, as long as there's no deathtouch).
Sangromancer is fantastic - it pays for the life we spend on card advantage, and keeps us alive through tough attacks. Silent Arbiter is a way to keep too many creatures from coming at us at once. Crawlspace is also an option.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a bit of a nonbo, since he does prevent us from being able to use Toshiro's ability. That said, the raw number of bodies he can provide, plus the permanent removal of our opponent's threats can be a huge benefit, even if I'm only casting each kill spell once. He usually does a huge amount of damage, or my opponents remove him so I can use my graveyard again - either way, I win.
Ogre Slumlord. Further disincentive for our opponents to attack. He provides a cheap line of expendable deathtouch blockers, and even if our opponent sends more creatures at us than we have kill spells, the extra deathtouch blockers tip the attack even further in our favor. Also, worth noting that each rat that has to block will usually kill the creature it's blocking... making another rat.
Torpor Orb. ETB effects can be really difficult to deal with, since this deck doesn't have many options for stopping a threat before it hits the field. Usually most useful against Ephara, God of the Polis, Roon of the Hidden Realm, or Brago, King Eternal make sure it's necessary before deploying, since it does shut down some of your creatures too.
Brain in a Jar. It's both a discount on spells, and a way to scry in desperation. What's not to like?
No Mercy. The best defense is a promise of swift and terrible death. Shred Memory is a nice instant-speed graveyard hate card, that doubles as a tutor for Torment of Hailfire or Exsanguinate, or if you're in very dire straits, one of your kill spells.

Last, I want to talk about a card I’ve experimented with, but that ended up being disappointing in my current build. Font of Agonies requires so much building around to be good. There are a lot of cards that ask us to pay life that we want in here, but I found that we have too many options that make us "lose life" or "deal damage to us" - while Greed does trigger the Font, Phyrexian Arena does not. I do think Font could be good in this deck, but would require a lot more building around than I'm willing to do.

Anything that runs on Plan A - Play Creatures and Attack With Them. Generals like Kaalia of the Vast, Saskia the Unyielding, Mayael the Anima, and Derevi, Empyrial Tactician will struggle greatly against this deck, as they typically cannot keep up with the steady stream of removal we can provide. Voltron commanders are easy pickings, but make sure you find your anti-hexproof/shroud pieces, or have a couple of edicts ready to get around those Lightning Greaves.

For the most part, we play well against combo decks as well. Most (not all!) combo decks require a creature or two for the combo to go off - whether that's Melira, Sylvok Outcast or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, playing against these decks just requires recognizing the threatening piece, and keeping it off the board.

Some matchups are good for us, but require a slight alteration to the gameplan. Because of Mayael the Anima's ability to drop Avacyn, Angel of Hope or worse Iona, Shield of Emeria, we typically want to kill her as soon as possible, rather than waiting for her to try to do something to us. The same goes for Kaalia of the Vast. This has the added benefit of really hampering these decks development, since they usually rely on their generals to play overcosted creatures for a discount.

Similarly, while Animar, Soul of Elements and Akroma, Angel of Wrath play nicely into our hands with every creature they cast, the protection from black makes these two a bit tougher - running several edicts (To the Slaughter, Diabolic Edict, Geth's Verdict, Tribute to Hunger), and the devoid removal (Grip of Desolation, Oblivion Strike, Scour from Existence, Spine of Ish Sah, maybe Complete Disregard) is a good way to handle the commander him/herself.

Reanimators and Flickerers can be a challenge, but can be overcome. These decks rely on creatures, but are either efficient at dodging our removal, or reusing the same creatures. These are decks like Karador, Ghost Chieftain, Meren of Clan Nel Toth (or her golgari friends Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest, and Savra, Queen of the Golgari), or Ephara, God of the Polis, Brago, King Eternal, and Roon of the Hidden Realm.

To deal with flicker decks, Torpor Orb should be priority #1. The ETB effects are by far the most challenging aspect of this matchup. Next, don't be afraid to spend resources against the flicker deck. Even if several of our kill spells fizzle because of flickering, we will outlast them. There are far more kill spells than flicker spells available. Kill things like Deadeye Navigator in response to the soulbond trigger, or Mistmeadow Witch before the actually threatening creatures they intend to flicker. Keep Roon of the Hidden Realm off the battlefield for as much time as you can. If possible, NEVER let the Roon player untap with Roon in play. Often, against flicker decks, the game comes down to a pivotal moment in which we stack kills spells three to five deep on one or more of their crucial creatures, while they respond to each one with an attempt to flicker - whoever wins that fight usually wins the game. Pick your moment to fight carefully.

For the Graveyard decks, it's a bit easier. Meren is very good, but struggles against effects like Ogre Slumlord and Archfiend of Depravity, which keep her board limited while expanding ours. Nevertheless, I tend to want to remove Meren quickly, to keep her value low. Savra and Jarad are a bit easier, since they tend towards combo-esque kills, rather than raw goodstuff. Karador can go either way. In general, they make keeping up with our one-for-one removal difficult, so things like Demon of Dark Schemes or Massacre Wurm can be good against them, and the Demon, as well as Chainer, Dementia Master and Nezumi Graverobber can attack their graveyards. If you want, a Bojuka Bog could be added, but I tend not to find it necessary.

Superfriends. Well, we just don't have too much spot removal for planeswalkers, nor do we really have enough of our own creatures to deal with them. To the Slaughter is fantastic, as are Hero's Downfall, Vraska's Contempt and Ruinous Path. In general, you'll need to play politics with the other players at the table - convince them to attack the planeswalkers (not usually hard to do), or, if they won't, then kill their creatures and reanimate them to do it yourself. Either way, in a 1-on-1 matchup, we tend to lose HARD.

Sigarda, Host of Herons and Narset, Enlightened Master can both be brutally difficult. Against Sigarda, you've really got no hope without landing either Arcane Lighthouse or Glaring Spotlight or both. Both of these are also effective against Narset, although with Narset you also have the option of using edicts, (To the Slaughter, Diabolic Edict, Geth's Verdict, Tribute to Hunger) since Narset builds typically are light on other creatures. Withering Boon, Sudden Spoiling, and Darkness can all be invaluable for the extra turns they buy you (although it's important to note that Sudden Spoiling does not remove the +X/+X effects of enchantments or equipment, even though it DOES remove hexproof/indestructible/lifelink etc that comes from enchantments/equipment.). However, a well-placed Sudden Spoiling can remove sigarda's abilities, allowing you to force a sacrifice or target a kill spell.

Updated: 8/23/20
Cards to be tested:
Whip of Erebos
Gravebreaker Lamia
Crypt Incursion
Suffer the Past
Feed the Swarm
Soul Shatter
Karn, Silver Golem


Updates Add

We've got some good updates here, with Oubliette's newly-reprinted and errata'd version as the prime addition!

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4 days ago)

-1 Karn, Silver Golem maybe