Guest Post – Deathkeeping It Real

By the power of Grayskull, I HAVE THE POWER!

Editor’s Note: I love getting articles from people, and I love posting them if they’re really good. This is a guest post by a Mr. Max Kautsch, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

I love EDH.  Who doesn’t?  I love using cards I’m too cheap to have more than one of.  I love using one-ofs from my collection that have never before seen play.  I love the staggering deckbuilding possibilities inherent in over 7,000 card choices.

One thing I do not love: the way multiplayer games bog down as each player tries to build up for an alpha strike that will defeat one or more opponents while not leaving himself exposed to a deadly counterattack.

My solution?  A deck that will end the game quickly one way or another.  Kill or be killed.  None of this interminable posturing and politicking.  A deck like that would probably have to involve some devastating combo that can just win the game.  So what, you say, kill combos have been done ad nauseam.  Ok, maybe so.  But by that logic, all control and aggro strategies have “been there done that.”  So I think the question becomes, what would be a unique, not-too-broken way to combo out against all your opponents at once in EDH?

When I Gathered (I’m going to use for the links. Why? Because I’m the editor, that’s why – MTGCP) for possible combolicious generals, I couldn’t help but notice that the rules text for Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper beings with the word “whenever”.  As all good Johnnys know, “whenever” can be the key to going infinite.  So why not give it a shot?

A closer look at the Deathkeeper shows that the card needs a sacrifice trigger to put the keys in the ignition of the car to infinity (ok, no more extended non-Magic metaphors), and I have loved Ashnod’s Altar for some time (Enduring Renewal, anyone?).  Phyrexian Altar seems like another good idea.  If I can figure out a way to get non-token creatures to the graveyard, General Sek’Kuar’s trigger is a win condition once the deck goes infinite.  And in EDH, that win condition is effectively always in my hand via the Command Zone.

Much like the Wedding Altar. Know what I'm sayin' fellas?

The deck seemed like even more of a “go” after I thought about how fun and not-so-broken it would be; ultimately, if your opponents don’t have a Volcanic Fallout or any of the other umpteen million ways to stop an army of 3/1 haste creatures, that’s their problem, not yours. 🙂 To say nothing of the fact that a well-timed counter disrupts the flow of any combo, and instant-speed removal on a combo piece is disaster.  Further, if I know anything about Ashnod’s Altar combos it’s that it takes a minimum of 3 cards to win, and that’s if you’re satisfied putting token creatures into the yard.  For this deck, actual creatures would have to hit the yard to take advantage of the Deathkeeper.

Without further ado, my process for EDH combo construction, or as I like to call it, Deathkeeping It Real.

Step One: Win Conditions

  1. General: Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper
  2. Bitter Ordeal (via Gravestorm)
  3. Essence Warden (infinite life)

After some testing with Grapeshot and Tendrils of Agony, among others, it became clear the deck didn’t need any more win conditions than these.  The fact that the Deathkeeper takes up permanent residence in my hand is the main reason to go light on this component of the deck.

Step Two: Combos to generate a “storm” count

The most important part of the deck.  The decision to go with the Altars hinged on their low casting cost and my nostalgia for Ashnod’s.  From there my options were limited only in the sense that there are many more infinite combos out there that involve token creatures.  Finally, to win on one turn you need to have the mana available to execute at least one win condition as well as the combo.  So the choices were as follows:

  1. Phyrexian Altar + Unearth + Eternal Witness
    Sac the Witness to the Altar to cast Unearth on the Witness.  Rinse and repeat.  Gravestorm and infinite Witness-sacings to trigger any of the win conditions.  All pieces cost 3 mana or less.
  2. Ashnod’s Altar + Priest of Gix + Corpse Dance
    When you play Priest of Gix with the Altar out, and then sac the Priest to the Altar, the five mana goes to Corpse Dance and buyback on the Priest infinitely.  Although Corpse Dance and buyback costs 5, the Priest alleviates that cost with its ability.  Perhaps slightly less weildly than combo #1.
  3. Phyrexian Altar + Caller of the Claw + Corpse Dance
    Might need a crature or two out first to sac to the Altar in order to trigger the Caller’s ability (depends on how much mana you have available), and subsequently sac his token bears to the Altar to make enough mana to Corpse Dance and buyback on the Caller.  Rinse and repeat for infinite bears and infinite Deathkeeper tokens due to the repeated sacrificing of the Caller himself.  Although a little game-state dependent, its real benefit is that it works at instant speed as long as the Altar is in play. (Before people write in saying you can’t do that because both the Caller and the Gatekeeper say-non token cards, he’s talking about triggers from the Caller itself. Play the Caller, get X 2/2 token creatures (maybe), sac the Caller and other creatures to the Altar to add mana for the Corpse Dance with buyback; get a 3/1 token. Get the Caller back to add 1 more 2/2 token (from the Caller). Keep doing it. Each time you get the Caller back, you keep getting 1 more 2/2 bear token than the previous time since it keeps track of all the creatures that went to the graveyard before it. – MTGCP)

The old "No, you first" routine.

Step Three: Grave Pact interactions

Obviously, a deck like this is going to benefit from Grave Pact, which forces your opponents to lose their creatures as you gain the benefit of sacrificing yours for one nefarious plot or another.  What are the best ways to take advantage of this sick card?  I settled on the following.

  1. Grave Pact + Necrogenesis + Ashnod’s Altar = Free one-sided Wrath of God
    OK, not quite, because it’s targeted removal, and it’s a little iffy because you need to be sure not to remove any key creatures from your own graveyard if there aren’t any other targets, but otherwise…you just need 2 colorless to get started.  Then put a Necrogenesis token onto the battlefield and sac it to the Altar.  Grave Pact triggers, impacting all your opponents.  Use the two mana to make another Necrogenesis token…
  2. Grave Pact + Reassembling Skeleton + Skullclamp
    “Pay 2 and B to draw two cards and your opponents sacrifice a creature.”  May not be infinite, but it’s pretty awesome card advantage and removal to boot.

Step Four: Rounding out the Deck

Card advantage (to find your combo pieces) and control (to give yourself time to combo out) and are essential elements to any combo deck.  The following cards are tutors of one kind or another.  Wish I had Vampiric Tutor, too 😦

A key element in a non-white deck (no Wrath, no Day of Judgment etc) is mass removal.

Targeted removal; for those specific problems that need solving:

The deck also gets a lot of mileage out of utility creatures to take advantage of Corpse Dance and Uneath.  Thus, cards like Wall of Blossoms, Caldera Hellion, Elvish Visionary, and Big Game Hunter fill in some holes the deck that might otherwise be filled by non-creature spells.

Mana acceleration is also nice for combo decks.  Since our pool of cards includes green, there’s no reason not to include the best green acceleration like Skyshroud Claim, Wood Elves (particularly nice with the Ravnica duals), Sakura Tribe Elder, Yavimaya Elder and Kodama’s Reach.  Like any combo deck, mana is at a premium, so it’s good to have green along to help with that.  Thunderscape Battlemage and Helm of Awakening are also great non-green accelerators.

Counterspells to protect the combo in a non-blue deck?  Well, in EDH that’s not as much of a problem.  Wild Ricochet has been an EDH all star, and Fork and Autumn’s Veil do what they are supposed to do.

Finally, card drawing in a non-blue deck is always something of an issue.  The tutors help, but I also added
Harmonize, Phyrexian Arena, Sensei’s Divining Top, Scroll Rack, Night’s Whisper, Dark Confidant and Sylvan LibraryRegrowth and Eternal Witness keep non-reanimation recursion a factor, which is huge in EDH where you can only use one copy of each card.

A three-color mana base is not particularly difficult, so suffice here to mention the Onslaught fetch lands, the Urborg and the Phyrexian Tower to be particularly helpful.  Mostly, the deck is concerned with getting its mana because as long as its game plan materializes there is a decent chance for victory.

Step 5: Game Play

Lots of games seem to go like this: tutor for an Eternal Witness ASAP, then return the Tutor to your hand when the Witness comes into play.  Tutor for Corpse Dance so you can repeat Witness-for-tutor and search your deck for the combo pieces.  Play the combo and beat all your opponents simultaneously in one huge alpha strike.

OK, the decklist:

1 Big Game Hunter
1 Bone Shredder
1 Caller of the Claw
1 Crater Hellion
1 Dark Confidant
1 Elvish Visionary
1 Essence Warden
1 Eternal Witness
1 Hoarding Dragon
1 Masked Admirers
1 Priest of Gix
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper
1 Spike Weaver
1 Thunderscape Familiar
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Wall of Roots
1 Wood Elves
1 Yavimaya Elder

1 Ashes to Ashes
1 Autumn’s Veil
1 Bitter Ordeal
1 Corpse Dance
1 Crop Rotation
1 Damnation
1 Dark Ritual
1 Demonic Consultation
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Dimir Machinations
1 Fork
1 Harmonize
1 Kodama’s Reach
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Night’s Whisper
1 Primal Command
1 Putrefy
1 Regrowth
1 Savage Twister
1 Skyshroud Claim
1 Terminate
1 Unearth
1 Void
1 Wild Ricochet
1 Worldly Tutor

1 Grave Pact
1 Necrogenesis
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Sylvan Library

1 Ashnod’s Altar
1 Helm of Awakening
1 Obelisk of Jund
1 Phyrexian Altar
1 Plague Boiler
1 Scroll Rack
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Skullclamp
1 Sol Ring

1 Blood Crypt
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Dragonskull Summit
6 Forest
1 Gilt-Leaf Palace
1 Glacial Chasm
1 Graven Cairns
1 Karplusan Forest
1 Lake of the Dead
1 Llanowar Wastes
2 Mountain
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Phyrexian Tower
1 Polluted Mire
1 Raging Ravine
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Rootbound Crag
1 Savage Lands
1 Slippery Karst
1 Stomping Ground
1 Strip Mine
1 Sulfurous Springs
5 Swamp
1 Twilight Mire
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Vivid Crag
1 Vivid Grove
1 Vivid Marsh
1 Wooded Foothills

1Garruk Wildspeaker
1Liliana Vess

Any thoughts and additions much appreciated.  Good luck, and Game On!

8 responses to “Guest Post – Deathkeeping It Real

  • Burniate

    Notably missing lands:

    Cabal Coffers
    Gaea’s Cradle

  • Achilles

    broken, i like it.

  • Dane

    I would play lightning greaves. It protects your general from being hated on if the people you’re playing with know your combo with him and it gives all abilitys haste.

  • DGent

    Holy. Crap. Finally someone makes a list that I can compare to. This guy was my second general, and I made a funsies EDH with him using evoke, devour, dredge, etc., but due to a lack of resources, the deck was mediocre at best. Thank you for the nice looking list you’ve provided.

  • Krisam

    looks like a fun deck. It’s great to have different interactions with generals that not man people use

  • ejc

    Play Anarchist and Death’s Duet. Same as Eternal witness combo but for 5. I would also definitely play Living Death and probably Twilight’s Call here as well. If either goes off with a Witness in the yard it should win you the game.

  • lattentreffer

    A very nice deck !!! But I think my playgroup would expel me from playing with them after riding this deck to epic victory ….

    But very nice interactions and chock full of synergies

  • Elementaldrow

    Bloodghast+lotus cobra+perilous forays would be pretty good if you p,ayed more cards with basic land types

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