Snakes All the Way Down

Posted in Reconstructed on September 23, 2014

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

In the history of Magic, some of the most powerful decks of all time have been ones that took advantage of the graveyard.

Replenish filled up its graveyard with enchantments and then brought them all swooshing back into play. Reanimator decks bring out a nearly unstoppable threat in the first few turns—and then have countermagic backup just in case. Dredge is just so absurdly powerful and mind bending that it doesn't even need the prefix "Re" at the beginning to make this list. (Although Redredge does have a nice ring to it.)

The moral of the story: Whenever a new graveyard-focused strategy rolls into town, you'd best pay attention.

Become Immense | Art by Jaime Jones

And here we are. An entire clan of Khans of Tarkir, dedicated to graveyard shenanigans. There is certainly power to be found here. Graveyard power is something to be feared—and fear makes companions of us all.

Let's investigate that power closer today, shall we? Here's Garry Hough's take on Sultai:

Garry Hough's Ride the Snake

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The Battle Plan

This is a graveyard deck, certainly—but how does it play?

Well, like most graveyard decks, you seek to dump cards into your graveyard as quickly as possible. Satyr Wayfinder, Commune with the Gods, and the brand-new Sidisi, Brood Tyrant see to that. Mana accelerators help point you toward your game plan even quicker.

After that, there are two primary angles of attack that this deck takes.

The first is simple: Whip of Erebos. This high-powered Theros card will send huge threat after huge threat right at your opponent, while ensuring you don't lose the life race in the process. While there's only one in the decklist right now, I wouldn't count on it staying that way for long.

The second is more of a creature aggression strategy. Nighthowler can hit hard, and Sidisi can create an army of Zombies that will overtake your opponent. Strength from the Fallen, when it works, definitely packs a huge punch as well.

In tweaking, I want to tighten up both of the angles of attack. Finding the best route to kill your opponent is very important in a deck like this, and there are a few different directions to be looked at. Here we go!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards are worth keeping and which can we throw to the snakes? Let's take a look at each choice in the deck!

Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic

The acceleration suite here is important for two reasons. The first is the more obvious one: it helps you set up your game plan faster. Facing down a turn-three Sidisi is frightening!

The second is a little less obvious: it puts more creatures into your deck. Or, rather, it means you can play fewer lands. And in a deck that's milling itself ("milling" meaning putting cards from a library straight into a graveyard) and looking for creatures to make cards like Sidisi and Nighthowler better, that's quite important.

For all of these reasons, I want to up Elvish Mystic to the full four copies. And, of course, keep the full set of Caryatids.

Satyr Wayfinder

Ah, the beginning of the mill train is pulling into the station. Choo choo! All aboard!

This is exactly the card for a deck like this: it puts three or four cards into your graveyard, helps you hit your land drops, and is even a creature to boot. And don't forget that cards like this can trigger Sidisi once she's out! I definitely want all four copies of Satyr Wayfinder.

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

Why'd it have to be snakes? Well, Sidisi is one of the headlining cards from Sultai for this deck, and she can singlehandedly take over the game if unopposed.

Sidisi mills you further and produces Zombies over and over from both her own effect and any mill cards you cast. While often I'd be wary of playing four copies of a legendary card, Sidisi is a legendary creature I'm fine doing that with. If you have one stick on the battlefield you're in good shape, and you can even always cast one from your hand just to mill three cards if you need to!

Courser of Kruphix

Ah, our good old friend Courser of Kruphix. The infamous "Kroo" of the Carrie and Kroo duo, out there wreaking havoc on the Multiverse.

Courser isn't quite as strong here as in some other decks because of the fewer number of lands it is going to end up playing, but the self-mill helps you control the top card of your library to be what you're looking for often enough. This deck can't afford to have too many dead draws. Plus, Courser of Kruphix provides another thing for Elvish Mystic to curve into. Keeping all four it is!


One of the backbones of a deck like this, Nighthowler can be truly gigantic for its mana cost. This card will end up with double-digit power fairly often. I can't imagine playing fewer than the full four copies here.

Additionally, I'd like some more cards in the vein of oversized attackers. Nemesis of Mortals fits nicely, coming out as a 5/5 (and quickly a 10/10) very early and putting on the pressure. And hey, it's even a Snake for the theme! I'm going to play two copies of Nemesis of Mortals as well to help compliment my Nighthowlers.

Nylea, God of the Hunt

Playing one Nylea theoretically gives you a target late game to Whip back and break up a board stall if you can flip Nylea into your graveyard. However, the odds that comes up is low enough that I'd rather just have cards that are going to generally be better to Whip or draw. Goodbye, Nylea!

Pharika, God of Afflictions

Keeping creatures in your graveyard is something this deck pretty actively tries to do, and Pharika's ability is only good in certain matchups. Yes, she does combo with Strength from the Fallen to combo-kill out of nowhere, but, like Nylea, I would rather have a card I can count on more often in this spot. In decks like this, it is crucial you are consistent, and streamlining the deck does a lot of work toward that goal.

Instead of Nylea and Pharika, I would like to look elsewhere for something that works well in my graveyard. The card I'd rather have here is Soul of Innistrad. Amid all of my self-milling, hitting those gives you an incredible amount of gas in the long game. Trying to sweep the board in the face of a Soul of Innistrad induces much teeth-gnashing since you can easily rebuild—and with bestowed Nighthowlers, no doubt. Two Souls is the number I'd like here: you don't want to draw a bunch of them, but they are great to flip into your graveyard. Plus, you can always hard-cast them when you need to.

Commune with the Gods

Like Satyr Wayfinder, this is a staple in decks like this. It mills you, helps you dig for the creatures you're looking for, and even lets you find enchantments like Whip as well! This is a solid four-of.

Strength from the Fallen

In a heavy graveyard deck like this one, this card has a ton of potential. It can make even your Elvish Mystics absolutely titanic threats, and every card becomes a must deal-with threat...provided you can keep the stream of enchantments coming.

However, a huge problem with a card like this is that it doesn't do much to help get your engine running and it's hard to ensure it's reliable. While the "kills out of nowhere" aspect is great, it's not even guaranteed to keep working once you put it out there. As I mentioned early, consistency is key in decks like these—and Strength doesn't help as much with that as I'd like.

Instead, I'd rather look to a brand-new card: Sultai Ascendancy. This helps the deck be extremely consistent, helping you find whatever you need. Drawing multiples is great, and it even combos well with Sidisi. I'm going to swap the Strengths for a play set of Ascendancys.

Empty the Pits

Empty the Pits is one of the marquee delve cards from the set, no doubt. I predict there will be more mysteriously ended-at-end-of-turn matches on camera from this card than any other in the months to come; if a game against blue-black control is progressing normally and then all of a sudden the other player just concedes to flashing a card, this is the culprit you're looking for.

Oddly, here, it clashes with the rest of what the deck is doing. This deck actually doesn't get that much mana in play, and it doesn't want to delve away any of its creatures. You have to hit BBBB before you can cast it. Plus, it isn't a creature itself, meaning it is not a card I want to flip into while milling myself. While Empty the Pits is certainly a very strong card, it isn't what I want for this Sultai deck.

Whip of Erebos

I mentioned this several times earlier, and now I'm finally coming back around to it. It's like Chekov's Gun. Or Gavin's Whip. Or... something.

In any case, this is a fundamental card for this deck that can absolutely take over the game. A lot of decks have immense trouble dealing with the power this card provides. Many control decks quickly have to dig for a Banishing Light or risk losing if this sticks on the battlefield. While playing four of a legendary card is, once again, something you always have to carefully look at, Whip of Erebos is strong enough and you always want to draw it that I am okay playing four. If you have one stuck in your hand, that's probably okay: the Whip's activated ability means you might not even bother casting more spells anyway!

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Snakes All the Way Down

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I'd be sure to have graveyard hate in your sideboard no matter what you play at this upcoming Friday Night Magic, because this deck can be rather strong.

Hoisting huge creatures onto the battlefield with ease, and with a good early game and late game, means this is a kind of deck to be reckoned with. It's full of threats your opponent has to deal with or lose.

Sultai Ascendancy, although it may look unassuming, is pretty strong here. In general, if it isn't exactly what you want I'd just send both of the cards to the graveyard. The cards I'm usually digging for are Whip of Erebos; Sidisi, Brood Tyrant; and Nighthowler. You'll usually use Ascendancy to look for those.

Have fun playing this deck! It's a wild ride into the fresh new world of Khans of TarkirStandard. Have fun!

Honorable Mentions

Sultai not your thing? Fear not—there were plenty of exciting decks sent in this week! Take a look!

Matsukasa's Hardened Squid

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POSValkir1's The Siren's Drum Combo

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Tony Youssef's Chromantarkir

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Yuta Suzuki's Chockies

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AJ's Mono-Black Aggro

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Mekanic's Art of War

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Lundizz's Can You Smell What Surrak is Cooking?

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Brandon Gross's Jeskai Burn

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Takahiro Yamamoto's Tymaret Sligh

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Brandon Dauer's Flying Hydras

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Itou Kazunari's Anger of the Chimera

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Jeremy Brewer's Selesnya Sentinels

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Tomoyoshi Sasaki's No Rare Red

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Rho_Game's Mardu Warrior Aggro

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Professional Khan Artists

With a new set, that means a new Pro Tour—and in just a little over two weeks, it will be time for Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir!

I want to take this chance to look at Standard with an extra-competitive eye. Send in your best competitive submissions!

Format: Khans of Tarkir Standard
Restrictions: Your deck should feel like it could be a Pro Tour-level Standard deck with some tweaks
Deadline: September 29, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by emailing me at

Decklists should be submitted with YOURNAME's DECKNAME at the top. Underneath should be one card per line, with just a leading number. For example:

12 Mountain
4 Firedrinker Satyr
3 Ash Zealot
4 Lightning Bolt

...and so on. Please don't use anything but a space to separate the card numbers and names—don't write "4x Lightning Bolt," for example. Well-formatted decklists have a much better chance of being read and making it into the column. Poorly formatted decklists are more likely to be ignored. (If I can't read your decklist, I certainly can't talk about it!)

Also, take note that, for this week, please send your decks to There is currently a bug that is causing difficulty with me seeing your decklists sent to my Wizards address.

If you have any thoughts on this article, I'd love to hear them. Never hesitate to send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr—I'm guaranteed to see it!

I hope you enjoyed this take on Sultai. Next week, I'll be back with a look at Abzan for Abzan Week! I look forward to talking about my Tarkir clan with you. Talk with you then!


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