I was listening to Limited Resources recently, and one of the things Marshall and Luis talked about was the idea of having a plan and adapting that plan to account for what your opponent is doing and the information they’re giving you, while minimizing the information you give out. This is obviously a great concept to understand as a competitive player, but it’s important when building Commander decks as well. Take a look at a Commander deck you have that isn’t performing how you’d like it to perform, and ask yourself this: What is this deck’s plan, and how can I stay true to that plan while making this deck flexible enough to deal with changing circumstances?
In the paper world, I have an Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath deck that is, essentially, a hastily modified version of a pre-constructed deck that I put together on a whim to play in a local Commander night a couple of years ago. As a result, the deck doesn’t have a cohesive plan other than “maybe we can activate this Ob Nixilis ultimate,” which is barely a plan. Because the deck is a pile of decent black cards, it performs well enough in casual games, but I think it can easily be made better and more fun by applying this kind of thinking.
So, what do we want to do with Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath?
Well, you’re likely to gain a decent amount of life with the +2 while you build toward the ultimate, so let’s figure out some ways to use that life. The -2 gives you a body to protect Ob Nixilis, but you can use that 5/5 for more than that—a subtheme of cards like Disciple of Bolas could help. The ultimate doesn’t need a ton of help—when someone asked me what the third ability on this card was recently, my answer was “-8, become an unkillable god.”
There are some fairly obvious ways to disrupt your plan that you’ll need to account for. If Ob Nixilis is countered or destroyed, his cost becomes steep quickly, so you’ll need ways to generate extra mana. Planeswalkers need a strong defense against creatures, so wraths and deterrents will be a priority as well. Finally, decks full of haymakers, which mono-black decks often are, can run out of steam easily, so recursion and card draw will be important. (It may sound like I’m sort of coming at this from first principles, but that’s because I am—I’ve never built a mono-black deck that I actually liked.)
That’s a lot of goals, isn’t it? I think we can fit all of them into a deck list, so let’s do some work and figure it out!
Well, obviously, we’re starting with Cabal Coffers. Sure, it doesn’t do anything by itself, but with a little help from our 26 cards with the type Swamp, it’s easy to enjoy the extra mana it brings. Magus of the Coffers isn’t seen quite as much since it's more of an investment for a much less durable card, but I can live with that.
Next up in obvious town, we have the doublers. Extraplanar Lens is much less exciting when it helps the rest of the table, so we’ve covered our Swamps in snow for this particular deck. Caged Sun, Crypt Ghast, and Nirkana Revenant are all pretty straightforward, though I’ll say that Crypt Ghast’s extort provides quite a bit of incidental life gain to go along with Ob Nixilis’s +2. You will annoy the whole table, but where’s the fun in being anything but the center of attention, right?
The Altar mana is often used to fuel its own activated ability, but when it isn’t a priority to blow something up, it can be nice to spend 2 or 3 mana on something else. Black Market is much better at fueling turns that feature multiple 7+ mana spells or a kicked Promise of Power.
Wraths and Deterrents
We’re not quite at the peak mono-white deck level of wrath effects, but 6 is pretty good, especially when you consider that BSZ and Mutilate are both capable of getting rid of indestructible/regenerating annoyances. In Garruk’s Wake is nice and asymmetrical—a great candidate for when you have a mana-doubler in play. Decree of Pain will clear your mana-doubling creatures, but if you tap out in advance, you can follow up with some sweet ones from all the cards you draw.
As long as Magic is being sufficiently played, you’ll end up with a 5/6 (a pretty weird size for a black Dragon if you ask me) and a nice clean board.
When Pestilence Demon is on the table, no one wants to do much besides kill Pestilence Demon, but when someone does, you’ll be able to paint the board with activations. (Presumably you played this with a Cabal Coffers or other absurd mana engine in play.) You can also keep the board clean of creatures with 5 toughness or less by doing just the right amount of activations to keep your 7/6 afloat.
No one wants to attack the person with Kokusho. They played the Kokusho, but if you attack into it, you’re the one who unleashed the death trigger on the table. It’s your fault!
These are both really miserable creatures to attack into. Even if you trade with Wurmcoil, you’re leaving behind some pesky 3/3s, one of which has deathtouch to boot! Hangarback Walker can get big enough in this deck that killing it is just a death sentence from the 7+ Thopters that spring forth from its robo-corpse.
Card Draw and Recursion
Some number of one-shot draw effects are basically required, so here we are with these four. Ancient Craving’s twin brother, Ambition’s Cost, is sitting on the bench for this build, mostly because my MTGO copy of it is white-bordered. Ew. Wretched Confluence straddles the line between card draw and recursion, allowing you to cast a Raise Dead or two but then draw a card when you’re out of good candidates. Grim Harvest was in the list at one point but got cut early—perhaps you like it in this category better than I do.
Sure, you could cast Palace Siege in “drain the table” mode, but you’re doing so much of that already with your Commander that doubling down might pull too much table aggro. (There is such a thing!) The Khans mode is no Debtors’ Knell, but it’s good enough that I’d be happy to play this card even if it didn’t have the Dragons mode. Phyrexian Reclamation is a fantastic card that really shines in a mono-black deck because you’re never choked on the appropriate mana to take advantage of the recursion. It’s especially good with Ob Nixilis because the life loss is offset by his incidental life gain.
Sheoldred rarely makes it through a turn cycle, but when she does, it’s devastating. Everyone else loses something, and you get a creature back to go with your 6/6 swampwalker. Recursion straight into play is recursion at its best, isn’t it?
Repeatable draw effects are the best draw effects. Bloodgift Demon is fragile, being a creature, but it’s not scary enough that it gets hit with point removal on sight, so you should be able to get a card or two out of it. The rest of these are much less easy to destroy. Erebos is especially pesky, despite doing a bad impression of Greed—he gets the nod because he’s a great brawler once you get devotion, and the life loss is, again, offset by Ob Nixilis.
Of course, a deck like this is never complete without one last category:
We’ve already covered some of the haymakers in the other categories, but here are some more:
Enough wrathing goes on at the average table (especially when you count your 6 wraths) that this should be a satisfying card to cast most of the time. It’s also a nice temporary weapon against recursion (at least until the next wrath) but the prize of filling your board with all the horrifying things you’ve been battling with and against all game is the greatest prize of all.
Did I mention that attacking with huge creatures you worked hard to destroy is satisfying?
Part haymaker, part recursion specialist, Soul of Innistrad keeps your hand (and thus board) full of creatures and then gives you one last gasp of value after its death. What more can you ask for?
What can I say about Grave Titan? 10 power for 6 mana, plus 4 more if you get even a single attack… who can complain?
Your opponents’ spot removal becomes a much worse proposition when Gisa is around. Sacrificing Kokusho to make 10 power of Zombies and drain the table is incredibly satisfying, and that’s only one of the many big hits Gisa can produce.
I could go over every card in the deck, but at this point, I think I owe you the deck list. As always, the bench is a list of 10 cards I cut at some point that you can use to fill in holes from cards you don’t own, to adjust the list, or just to get some inspiration about other types of cards you could use in your own version of this deck. Here goes!
Commander: Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
That’s all for this week! I hope you’ve learned something about having a plan and building toward it. Next time I’ll be celebrating the Modern Masters 2017 release by featuring a Commander re-released in that set, so get excited!