I’ve had a strange relationship with the new Commander 2018 product. My initial impressions were that the were a mostly crap product. This is still a bit true, as many of the precon exclusive cards were lackluster, there were no good high dollar reprints and much of each deck is chaff that won’t see play. There were the new commanders though, and those are usually worth having to brew around. I’m just focusing on the Esper and Bant precons at this point, and have already built Yuriko, Estrid and Tuvasa, though I have come around to deck ideas for both Yennett and Varina, the latter which we will be covering today. It’s funny because I went from considering not even buying these precons to actually wanting three of them to wanting to build a ton of decks out of them. Varina was written off by my immediately, but having more time to think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that this should be my Zombie deck version 3.0. The first Zombie tribal EDH deck I build used Gisa and Geralf at the helm, then when the Scarab God released I changed to him (but kept G&G in the 99) and now I’m adding another color and keeping both the prior commanders in the 99 of the deck. But that’s not all, this is a heavily modified version of my last decklist with Scarab God at the helm. About a 50/50 split of cards from the prior build and cards I do not own (yet). Let’s take a look at our General and then see how things have changed.
For 1 and Esper, we get a 4/4 Zombie Wizard that lets us loot for every attacking Zombie each turn. As a bonus, we also gain that much life. With her second ability you can pay 2 mana and exile two cards from our graveyard to create a 2/2 tapped Zombie token. In my prior Scarab God build, I already had some token strategy, some sacrificing, some lords and anything that really had zombie flavor. It was basically a “Zombie Goodstuff” deck, but it was never overly competitive. I feel like the shenanigans can get way more out of hand with Varina, as it should be easy for us to fill up our hand with cards due to producing a bunch of zombie tokens and then attacking with them, and when we discard things we don’t need, we get extra value by exiling those cards to make more tokens. With a mixture of sacrificing and hand manipulation we can include some graveyard tricks and get value out of cards that aren’t doing anything for us at that moment. We’ll be able to churn through our deck efficiently and should be able to find our game breaking cards rather quickly. Let’s look at our token strategy first:
Anointed Procession is quite possible the single most important white card we’ve added to the mix, as it will do some amazing things. Have it on the board and cast an Army of the Damned? How’s 26 2/2’s sound? Attack with Grave Titan and get four instead of two. Sacrifice a big creature with Ghoulcaller Gisa to get double that creature’s power’s worth of tokens. You see where this is going. There’s a fair mix of token generating spells and creatures here, along with one Planeswalker that not only gives us Zombies but is also a one sided board wipe. Aven Wind Guide is one of the only non-Zombie creatures included in my list, but it does have the Embalm keyword, so it can come back as a Zombie when it dies, and it gives all of your tokens flying and vigilance, nice! Another special note for Lich Lord of Unx, he has a nice damage + mill effect for a minimal amount of mana that could be a finisher under the right circumstances. Lastly, Zombie Infestation is sort of redundancy with our commander, but instead of exiling from our graveyard we’ll discard two cards to create a Zombie token, which we can then exile to create another and if you have procession out… well you get the picture.
Any self respecting tribal deck should have a number of lords included in it, and I think Zombies might have the most. There are five here that give all zombies +1/+1, and most have other subtext that also provides evasion, life drain or recursion. Undead Warchief both cheapens casting costs for Zombies but also gives +2/+1 to them, and the OG Zombie Master gives our creatures swampwalk and regeneration. There is a creature that was included in the deck called Zombie Trailblazer that will change opponent’s lands into swamps so you can swing unhindered.
Besides creating a ton of tokens and swinging for the win, we have a subtheme where we drain the life from our opponents just for having our creatures changing zones. In some cases, a Zombie enters the battlefield and we drain opponent’s life and gain some in return. In other cases each opponent loses life when a Zombie dies. Shepherd of Rot taps to drain life from everyone for each Zombie you control (including you, but lifelink should help). The Merchant counts your devotion to black and then drains and gives you life. Besides some of our creatures I’ve already covered (and a couple I didn’t) that have sacrifice outlets, there’s also Ashnod’s Altar and Altar of Dementia which give us mana and mill opponents respectively. There’s also a fun card in Call to the Grave that forces each player to sacrifice a non-Zombie creature each upkeep, and since we mostly have Zombies we will be unscathed. Ditto Kindred Dominance naming Zombies.
These cards all support our main themes. Casting Approach of the Second Sun and then digging it back out should be quick and easy — that’s a win. After draining everyone through the course of a game, you can finish them with a well played Exsanguinate — that’s a win. Rooftop Storm makes your Zombies free, Reconnaissance can pull your creatures out of combat so they don’t die but you’ll still get the card draw. Oversold Cemetery will get you back the cards you’re discarding to Cryptbreaker or your commander. Gravecrawler is value and be cast over and over again in a single turn if you have another zombie, and that can drain people out, especially with Rooftop Storm. There’s some other recursion here along with Fatestitcher for some untapping action, Vesper Ghoul for some extra mana, and Blood Scrivener will help us with more card draw if we end up dumping our hands into our library. Overall I think the synergies here will work much better than my prior builds and I can’t wait to test this out! You can see the full decklist here.