I’m a fan of decks that use Commander damage as a primary win condition. I spend a lot of my time at the multiplayer tables attacking with Thraximundar, and I often write about Commanders that belong to the exclusive “3 Hit Club” from the iconic Avacyn, Angel of Hope and the “more like the 2 Hit Club” Atarka, World Render, to the more anemic Ayumi, the Last Visitor and the old classic Lady Orca. The cover charge at this club is pretty intense—it usually costs 5 mana or more, and 5 is really the exception. Once a Commander that costs that much dies, it takes a while to get back to the front of the line and back on the dance floor. 7 mana is a lot more than 5, as we all know.
What if I told you there was a side door to the 3 Hit Club you could sneak through for just 3 mana? That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Let me show you the way:
Okay, so it’s going to take some work to get Yahenni to the appropriate size, but once you do, they’re pretty hard to get rid of. All you need to protect them most of the time is another creature. In this analogy, Yahenni just needs someone to party with before they die—the “Penultimate Party,” as it’s called in Aetherborn culture. Hopefully, what really happens is that Yahenni racks up a bunch of counters and you get to push that party back for a while.
When I was concepting this deck, I considered a few different themes:
- Sacrifice/death matters
- +1/+1 counters matter
- Life gain/loss matters
- Vampire tribal
In the end, I decided to focus on Vampire tribal because it would allow me to play with creatures that I’ve never sleeved up in Commander, but there are still vestiges of the other themes kicking around the deck because they’re useful. The “sacrifice/death matters” theme is still a sub-theme, as I think it would be crazy to abandon that when your Commander is already such a good enabler.
Here’s the basic game plan: Play Yahenni, then kill your opponents’ creatures, giving Yahenni counters. Attack with Yahenni. The killing will usually be done by Grave Pact effects—Wrath effects that destroy creatures rather than exiling them—making their controllers sacrifice them, or giving them -X/-X, or the occasional old-fashioned removal spell. Yahenni doesn’t have any evasion, which means they’ll need some help once in a while to get through, but you can take care of that.
Let’s talk about some of the more interesting/important cards I’ve decided to include in the list:
These cards are going to be very important when we discuss some of the others, so I just want you to know we’re packing a few Grave Pact effects. Think about what will happen when you sacrifice a creature to Yahenni with one—or more—of these in play.
Yep, you get it.
I suppose this one is only interesting due to being new, but here it is. Discount Vampire Nighthawk is still good, even if it’s restricted to the ground. Deathtouch makes this a reasonable late-game brawler even for just 2 mana.
Were you playing during M12? You probably have the promo version of this kicking around in your bulk rares box. I like this Bloodlord because it provides Yahenni with some starter counters if you end up casting it off-curve or with some Commander tax. Bloodthirst isn’t terribly hard to set up in the midgame most of the time.
The Broodwich—er, Bloodwitch—is one of those lovely cards with the good drain-the-table templating where you end up gaining all of the life that gets lost. These days, I often have to settle for draining everyone for 3 life and just gaining 3—or I would, if I was willing to stoop so low. The Bloodwitch is in!
It’s everyone’s favorite totally inconsistent tribal lord! The random nature of this card made it shaky in Constructed—who wants to pay 4 mana for a 3/3? In Commander, however, you have some more leeway to play with effects like this. This is 1 of 50 black cards in your deck, so your hit-rate is going to be good enough.
Have you ever played that game where you try to think of cards whose names are the same as their creature types? No? Well, for the sake of this card, pretend you have. Goblin Assassin is a good one, as is Sliver Construct. Skeletal Vampire is so frustratingly close. Who decided it was a Vampire Skeleton? It’s not the skeleton of a vampire… is it? That actually sounds terrifying. Anyway, this provides some Bats for Yahenni to chomp on when things get tough, which also happens to fuel your set of Grave Pact effects. If times are not quite so lean, you can even perform some unspeakable Bat-proliferation ritual for future sacrifices.
(Shout-out to Warrior Angel, which is a Creature – Angel Warrior.)
I ended up cutting this from 3-color decks often because of the BBB in the mana cost. This deck is where Necropolis Regent is going to shine. Block your attackers? Fine, that just puts counters on Yahenni. Don’t block your attackers? Sure, they’ll just get super swole. Vampires are all about those #gains.
You’re going to need to reassemble your army once or twice a game, and Phyrexian Reclamation makes that a lot easier. You have a few ways to pick up some extra life here and there to fuel this, which makes it a lot easier to abuse in the midgame.
Black has some mediocre “draw 3, lose 3” effects. I should know—I put one of them in this deck list. In the mid-to-late game, though, I’d much rather have Aphetto Dredging. It’s a draw 3, but it draws you 3 Vampires. Unless you’re getting your graveyard eviscerated by opposing Bojuka Bogs and the like, that sounds better than 3 random cards.
Did I mention all of your creatures are Vampires? Well, except for the occasional Bat token, they are. Yahenni is the clear target for this particular piece of equipment, but any of your vampiric pals could wield this profitably.
This is one of the two cards I’ve previewed in the past that I managed to shoehorn into this list. (Spot the other one!) Yahenni isn’t a big fan of token strategies because a large army is that much harder for them to sneak through. Deadly Tempest punishes those strategies that hurt you the most. (Although more tokens means more creatures to kill, which means more counters on Yahenni…)
Before I drop the full 99 on you, I want to tell you about a sort of sidecar I’ve prepared for this article’s deck list. 99 is a large number of cards and if you want to build your own Yahenni list, you might not have some of those cards, or you might dislike some of my choices. That’s fine, and I want to give you a few suggestions in the form of 10 cards that didn’t make the cut in my list. I’ve dubbed that list “The Bench,” and I’ll try to provide that list with each new article I write. Enough explanation—here’s that deck list:
Commander: Yahenni, Undying Partisan
Okay! That’s it for this one. Well, that’s almost it. I haven’t forgotten the more winning-focused Atraxa list I promised last time. I won’t be presenting a tuned-up list every time—it’s just for times when my build goes way off the beaten path.