Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

Posted in Top Decks on April 17, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Our journey is just beginning.

Launch the Fleet | Art by Karl Kopinski

I've been enjoying the spectacle of Journey into Nyx. Of course, I'm a bit in love with Godly indestructible enchantment creatures and the array of new cards coming with them. (Mana Confluence is another card I've added to my list of "Reasons I should finally build a Commander deck around Atogatog.")


Another feature of Journey into Nyx that's caught my attention is the cycle of enchantments with flash.

Dictate of Heliod, Dictate of Kruphix, ???, Dictate of the Twin Gods, Dictate of Karametra

Each of these are potent effects in Commander, and the ability to cast one either as an unexpected "trick" or at the end of the turn preceding yours helps you get more out of your cards first. Of course, Dictate of Heliod doesn't affect opponents' creatures—it isn't symmetrical like the others we've seen. I wondered if Heliod's would be alone in that regard.

But I wonder no longer. This is Dictate of Erebos:

The God of the Dead has a few words for those who don't tread lightly.

The Value Proposition

Dictate of Erebos isn't treading new ground. Grave Pact is harder to cast but has been providing us this ability for well over a decade. Butcher of Malakir stapled it onto a flying Vampire fatty. Martyr's Bondbroadened it to nonland permanents. Even adding flash "just" brings back one of my favorite offbeat cards from years gone by, Urborg Justice.

Grave Pact
Urborg Justice

While I might be understating the power potential of Dictate of Erebos (Flash is killer in combat and in response to any one-sided Day of Judgment effects!), it's surprise factor is only a small slice of what it will do. Once it's in play, opponents will play around it just like they've done with its predecessors.

What do we do with a dictate that everyone already knows about? The obvious answer is to find ways to kill our own creatures for fun and profit, which is exactly what I asked you about last week. Brian started off the sacrificial path with a strong one:

Goblin Bombardment. Few things are more rewarding than creating a plethora of Goblin tokens and proceeding to throw them all at your opponents' faces.

I don't have a decklist as an example, but I used to run a Kiki-Jiki deck (taken apart and largely inserted into a Hazezon deck) that focused on creatures with good ETB effects.

Goblin Bombardment
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

In one of the last games I played with the deck, I played Chancellor of the Forge, copied him with Kiki-Jiki, used Fling to send the original Chancellor sailing at an opponent's face, triggering a Mimic Vat I had on the field, which I used to immediately make another copy of the Chancellor. After all of this, I had something like 70 Goblins on the field and ended the game by sacrificing all of them as ammo for Goblin Bombardment. That was satisfying.


Anyone who's played with—or against—Purphoros, God of the Forge in Commander knows how powerful plentiful creature tokens in red can be. Mixing Purphoros and Dictate of Erebos requires something more colorful (say, Mogis, God of Slaughter?) but the two mutually benefit each other: If you have Purphoros, God of the Forge and you make tokens, you profit. Similar, if you have Dictate of Erebos and ways to sacrifice tokens, you profit. Together is the peanut butter to chocolate flavor power-hungry deck builders crave.

Mogis, God of Slaughter
Purphoros, God of the Forge

Ed's Lyzolda, the Blood Witch deck doesn't use Purphoros, but the ideas are all there:

One of my first Commanders was Lyzolda, the Blood Witch. As many players do, I've stuck to using my favorite cards and so not everything in the deck synergizes with Lyzolda. Rather, she is there to support the deck itself.

Lyzolda's ability lends a lot of versatility to the deck. Bloodghast and Nether Traitor provide card draw in a pinch, but I also enjoy exploiting some of the more niche interactions, like getting more out of evoked Shriekmaw, for example. Kathari Bomber is a card you don't see often! So, five mana for 4 damage, two Goblins, and a card may not be the most efficient play in the world, but it's one I always enjoy making.

Kathari Bomber

Of course, her 2 damage can be made significantly more deadly. I found that Quietus Spike got hate-destroyed every time, so that was replaced by Gorgon Flail, which brings deathtouch with a bit more subtlety.

Then there is Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, and the various creatures he interacts strongly with—notably persist in Murderous Redcap and Puppeteer Clique.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Finally, one of the reasons I made the deck in the first place is that Lyzolda serves as a reliable removal engine when combined with Act of Treason effects.

Grave Pact not enough? Sigarda, Host of Herons got you down? If Insurrection doesn't get the job done you can be sure she's not going back! And if you can exploit the opponent's "leaves the battlefield" abilities at the same time, even better.

Here's my full decklist.


Ed's Lyzolda

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Sorin Markov
99 Cards

There are other ways to sacrifice for value, of course. Those of Orzhov inclinations fondly recall what Teysa, Orzhov Scion can do. Tyler covered the bases on what sacrificing can do for a deck built around her:

My favorite sacrifice effect for creatures had to be narrowed down to my top 5:

I love Teysa, Orzhov Scion and all the interactions she provides, and had to build a deck around her. I decided to run tokens. With all those disposable creatures, I have a lot of sacrifice in my deck. Vish Kal can turn into a machine gun when needed and alpha-strike when the time is right. Combine him with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and you have a one-sided Wrath of God. Angel and Imp are awesome for that headshot to the guy at the table who's making you mad. Especially with Angel. She's so old-school. The two Altars get you tons of extra mana to cast your high-cost cards, like Debtors' Knell or Ashen Rider.

My favorite two are Martyr's Cause and Sadistic Hypnotist. Both have unique effects when you sacrifice creatures. One is passive, the other aggressive. Not to mention, add Darkest Hour to a board with Teysa and any other creature to sacrifice and you have yourself a loop of sacrificing that will either prevent all damage forever or empty everyone's hand! The whole deck is made to abuse creatures and their disposability. Now, don't get me wrong, no one likes infinite loops or combos when it comes to Commander, but it's nice to have a few bullets in the chamber in big games. You'll always have "that guy," who decides to be a jerk, or draw first blood for no reason. In those cases, it's nice to tell that player he or she will never have a hand again, or that he or she is going to lose 40+ life from a Fallen Angel.

Martyr's Cause
Sadistic Hypnotist


Tyler's Teysa

Download Arena Decklist
99 Cards

Another color combination that loves to recycle the dead and the living is black-green, and Oren explained how the Golgari get value going:

Honestly, I've never met a sacrifice effect I didn't like (or tried to break). I believe it was Sam Black who said that sacrificing a creature is one of the most powerful things you can do in Magic, and I wholeheartedly agree. A few of my personal favorites include Goblin Bombardment, Spawning Pit, and just about anything with the word "Altar" in it.

Ultimately, however, green and black are the best colors for sacrificing my guys for fun and/or profit, and after a lot of time and consideration, I finally put together a deck based around Savra, Queen of the Golgari. It quickly turned into one of my favorite decks.

Oren's Savra

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (2)
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter 1 Liliana Vess
99 Cards

This deck features a laundry list of sacrificing all-stars, from Phyrexian Plaguelord to Greater Good, and plenty of creatures and tokens to take advantage of those cards. Recycling creatures such as Kokusho, Abhorrent Overlord, Woodfall Primus, and Solemn Simulacrum (especially with Blood Artist or Falkenrath Noble on the battlefield) can put me very far ahead very quickly. My creatures welcome the sweet release of death; the question is, do my opponents'?


Dictate of Erebos just stacks value onto the existing Greater Good–type engines I've made myself in Commander, and that's a fine way to approach things, too. When you're dealing with a format that covers the entire expanse of Magic and allows only one copy of a card into a deck, having redundant ways to generate the same effect goes a long in making a Commander experience more consistent.

We're not stuck on two colors either. John went to the skies with his deck:

I like the open-ended nature of your question. "Sacrifice effects for creatures" can be interpreted so many ways!

If you mean sacrifice effects on creatures, my list of favorites gets quite long. There are staples like Sakura-Tribe Elder that can self-sac. There are critters that let you sac their brethren for profit, such as Champion of Stray Souls; Eater of Hope; or Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, to name a few. Some, like Savra, Queen of the Golgari, patiently wait for you to sacrifice something else before triggering. Her brother, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, can eliminate an entire table of opponents if used correctly.

Or perhaps you meant effects that allow you to sacrifice creatures? When considering sac outlets, I personally prefer cards that cost nothing to activate, like Goblin Bombardment, converter of creatures into damage, or Spawning Pit, which helps replace the bodies that feed it. The Altars, Phyrexian and Ashnod's, are well-known combo pieces that violently transform your creatures into mana. It's also often quite nice to trade in your army for cards, which can be accomplished via spells like Momentous Fall or artifacts like Culling Dais.

Another thing I enjoy is forcing my opponents to sacrifice their own creatures. Grave Pact is one of the best ways to do this, but when I find myself outnumbered, there's nothing like a good Killing Wave to remedy the situation. There's also classic "Edict" removal spells—Diabolic Edict, Chainer's Edict, Cruel Edict—that don't even give your opponents a choice other than which of their precious creatures gets the axe.

The decklist I'm sharing began as a build-around for Kresh the Bloodbraided. He's still in the deck, but when Prossh, Skyraider of Kher came along last year, he was just too good to pass up, doing everything the deck wanted: making (lots of) tokens, providing a built-in means to sacrifice them, and swing for heaping helpings of good old-fashioned commander damage.


John's Sky Attack

Download Arena Decklist
Instant (2)
1 Abrupt Decay 1 Momentous Fall
99 Cards

All of these decks are just a sample of what's possible when you take sacrificing your own creatures into the plan, but there's plenty more to explore.

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born

Flesh-Eater Imp

Life Chisel

Phyrexian Plaguelord
Miren, the Moaning Well

Altar of Dementia

Shivan Harvest

Blasting Station
Diamond Valley

I think Dictate of Erebos being "just another Grave Pact" is going to work out just fine after all.

If You Miss, You'll End Up Among the Stars

There's just over a week to go until the Journey into Nyx Prerelease, but the pile of cards that are changing my decks is starting to get quite tall.

The quest I have for you this week is the same one I'm asking myself: Which Journey into Nyx card is making the biggest change to a Commander deck, and why?

  • Feedback via email
  • 300-word limit to explain your thoughts around a Journey into Nyx card
  • Sample decklist is requested (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

We'll know the full contents of Journey into Nyx soon enough, but I'm already beginning to rethink some of my favorite decks. Tell me what you're working on, too.

Join us next week when we wade deep into undiscovered country. See you then!

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