Grinding people out with recursive strategies and triggered abilities in Commander is a time-honored tradition. Cards like Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker take the helm and bring opposing strategies to a halt as they make liberal use of their graveyards. I don’t see these decks at every table, but I have a feeling I’ll see them more now with the release of this new Commander from Ravnica Allegiance:
Teysa wants your creatures to die. Ideally, they can come back and die again, or leave something behind when they die. To build an effective deck around Teysa, you’ll need creatures with good “dies” triggers that create more creatures, permanents that trigger when creatures die, and sacrifice outlets to keep things flowing into the graveyard while generating value for you. You also want to generate tokens—that’s the other exciting part of Teysa’s ability. Obviously the idea is for her to work within Ravnica Allegiance with the afterlife mechanic, and luckily, you’ll have some opportunities for her to do so.
Let’s start by talking about some creatures that die the way you want them to, including some new ones:
Like I said, the afterlife mechanic really shines with Teysa in play. Both Ministrant and Seraph do a great job of generating lots of tokens, and both Seraph and Enforcer do great work on defense.
Seraph can work on offense as well, creating situations where opponents have a choice between taking 4 from a vigilant flyer, or trading a reasonably large flyer of their own off and leaving you with a solid grip of Spirit tokens.
This is a pretty serious lineup of “dies” triggers. Many create plenty of tokens (imagine sacrificing Wurmcoil Engine with Teysa in play!) but some just get you tons of value. Doubling a Yosei trigger could nearly amount to a Time Walk, and doubling a Kokusho trigger might just end a game immediately. Elenda does an interesting Hangarback Walker impression, growing as things die rather than turn by turn, which makes her less consistent initially but gives her a lot more potential to grow incredibly large with Teysa in play. Archon of Justice does a great impression of Ashen Rider at just over half the price, and Reassembling Skeleton… well, I’m sure you’ll figure out what that’s for very soon.
Now let’s talk about permanents that trigger when creatures die, starting with a very important category:
With Vindictive Vampire coming out of Ravnica Allegiance, you have five creatures that bring this “drain” effect when creatures die. Falkenrath Noble, Blood Artist, and Wayward Disciple (once transformed) focus their ire on a single player, whereas Zulaport Cutthroat and Vindictive Vampire hurt the whole table while still bringing you 1 life per death. The all-important thing here, though, is the multiplicative nature of these triggers in your deck with Teysa in play. Say you sacrifice a Doomed Traveler. You’ll get two Vindictive Vampire triggers and two more Spirits. Then you can sacrifice those two Spirits for four more Vindictive Vampire triggers, not to mention whatever value you’re getting from your sacrifice outlet. Doomed Traveler has never looked better.
Next, you’ve got triggers that give you what you’ve always wanted: more creatures.
More tokens mean more creatures you can sacrifice to generate triggers that kill your opponents. Many of these are looking for non-token creatures to die, but that’s okay—my version of this deck runs 34 creatures, along with ways to bring them back. Teysa doesn’t care about tokens or non-tokens, just black creatures, which means she works quite well with Reassembling Skeleton, Open the Graves, and afterlife triggers. Requiem Angel is possibly the most egregious of the six, looking only for non-Spirit tokens and thus working very well with the likes of Hangarback Walker, Elenda, the aforementioned Pawn and Sifter, and an upcoming surprise all-star, Spawning Pit.
There are some other standouts that generate value when creatures die, which I’ll mention here:
The first three do a great job of keeping your hand full. Despite requiring you to sacrifice creatures rather than just have them die, Smothering Abomination is probably the best of them because it doesn’t have that pesky “non-token” word on it. The next three all do a great job of keeping the board clear of other peoples’ pesky creatures, which incidentally helps you get more triggers on Elenda, Yahenni, and Massacre Wurm. Athreos makes your opponents pay to keep creatures like Kokusho from making their way back into your hand and then finding their way to the graveyard again. Black Market is a classic—if you’re worried about having enough mana to do all this nonsense, Black Market makes life much easier in that department. Twilight Drover gets an honorable mention here. Despite not quite fitting the category and not getting help from Teysa, it turns tokens into more tokens, which just keeps the engine running.
This is all made possible by sacrifice outlets, like these:
Four of these give you freedom to sacrifice what you want when you want—some of them even generate more mana, though really, the “cost” of sacrificing a creature is the best part and everything else is just extra. Vampiric Rites requires 2 mana per sacrifice, but the card draw is more than worth it. Similarly, Skullclamp helps you turn an army of tokens that might not be able to get a productive attack in into some much needed cards. High Market, Phyrexian Tower, and Miren, the Moaning Well come in out of the land slot and dodge some of the removal your creature-based outlets are more vulnerable to. Finally, Spawning Pit is a surprisingly good card in this deck that gives you some extra ammo when you’re trying to end a game. Just feed your creatures to the Pit, make some Spawn tokens, and feed them back into the Pit, earning valuable drain triggers along the way. Pair it with Anointed Procession for maximum nonsense.
A couple more sacrifice outlets deserve a mention:
Have you ever wanted to turn a token or two into a Kokusho? Hell’s Caretaker and Whisper have your back. Both of these cards play incredibly well with the aforementioned (and upcoming) token generation strategies and cards like Reassembling Skeleton. There’s also something to be said for sacrificing Kokusho and Yosei to get some random creature back. Your opponents will do their best to kill these when they appear, and in the worst case, hopefully that keeps their instant-speed exiling removal away from your Dragon Spirits.
Finally, let’s talk token generation. I’ve already discussed plenty in the form of permanents with triggered abilities, but there are more ways to generate tokens for this deck, which is good—you’ll need the fuel. Here are some of my favorites:
Dawn of Hope and Bitterblossom do a lot of work to fill out your board, with Dawn of Hope doubling as a draw engine. Did I mention that Teysa gives all your creature tokens lifelink, making Dawn of Hope even more powerful? Secure the Wastes and Martial Coup both generate plenty of tokens, with Secure being a better mana sink to tap out for and Martial Coup acting as more of a reset that puts you back in the lead on the board. I have, however, been known to pay 4WW for Martial Coup on occasion just to get things moving along.
It’s worth noting that this deck is very focused on its own engine—my build doesn’t have a ton of room for graveyard hate (a lone Bojuka Bog) or Wrath effects (I’ve got Damnation, since the deck is slanted toward black mana, and Martial Coup). I don’t think this deck wants to Mercilessly Evict its own board or Relic away its own graveyard, so there are some tools that are unavailable here, but it’s possible I might have underprepared for that. I’ve slotted in some powerful 1-ofs like Cathars’ Crusade and Teferi’s Protection that play good offense or defense in those spots in hopes that they’ll be enough, and so far, they largely have. I’m hoping to get some solid stream time in with this deck so that I can figure out where the leaks are (in a casual sense, of course—I’m not looking to turn this deck into a competitive masterpiece, just the usual giant video game boss with a slightly less glowing weak point.) Here’s my current list:
Commander: Teysa Karlov
What does your Teysa Karlov list look like? How has it performed in your playgroup? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see you next time with more new decks with Ravnica Allegiance Commanders!