Diabolic Intent - The Long Night

(Rise of the Dark Realms | Art by Michael Komarck)

What Is Dead May Never Die

Welcome back to Diabolic Intent, where we build decks around iconic villains and their diabolical schemes! This week's featured guest hails from a TV show often noted for its heart-wrenching and gory deaths, the most notable of these being the tragic final season deaths of the show's fanbase, character arcs, and cultural impact. This makes my resurrection of the exceptionally dead conversation around Game of Thrones rather appropriate, given our guest's penchant for similarly necromantic activities.

The Night King's ultimate goal was a bit of a bummer, in that it involved a lot of eternal winter and darkness. In spite of this rather misanthropic campaign strategy, his ideology swayed many loyal recruits from a historically underrepresented base: dead people! Fortunately for us, swampy mages have been championing the right for dead people to serve in private militias since 1993, giving us a wide range of cards to choose from.

Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I'd say I don't want to ruin the ending, but the show kinda beat me to the punch there. (Follow up warning: like many fans, I found the ending of this show maddeningly unsatisfying, and as much as I've tried to forget and move on with my life like everyone else over the past nine months, my pent-up emotions make themselves apparent a few times here.)

Commander - Varina, Lich Queen

Varina is a good choice for those seeking a little variation from the standard Dimir or mono-black Zombie deck. We're looking for a lot of variation, in that we're only running 15 creatures (half the average amount for her), and only 5 of them are even Zombies! Those numbers belie the utility we'll end up getting from Varina's ability, but it's safe to say that we're not leaning all that aggressively into Zombie tribal. Ironically, all of our noncreature Zombie-related cards are black, but the flavor gods demand blue and white for reasons explained below. More ironically still, the next section has none of the white cards.

White Walkers

Mr. Freeze's inner circle was populated by a number of fellows with a similar contempt for the concept of death. Note the common feature of these particular reanimators being that they can make use of creatures in our opponents' graveyards. Rather than packing our own Zombies, our primary strategy will be to fill the yards by slaughtering our enemies with cards like Damnation and Life's Finale, then follow up with our suite of necromancers to bring them back on the cheap!

We also have the option to preempt our wipes with Lim-Dûl, the Necromancer or Grave Betrayal, giving us our creatures immediately. Note that it's cards like these (and The Scarab God) that give us our value with Varina, since they add the Zombie creature type.


Indestructible has proven to be an exceptionally useful keyword for writing about villains because of how perfectly it captures the Achilles' Heel aspect of so many popular villains' invulnerability. The Nightman and his compatriots were immune to most relevant forms of physical and magical attack, and even outside our (important) flavor concerns, it is in our best interests to limit the weaknesses of our White Walker cards listed above. This means that, in their particular case, exile removal is a stand-in for "dragonglass" (obsidian), Valyrian steel, and characters with whom they have no previous dramatic involvement leaping out of the shadows with a knife.

While the Boss Zombies' resistances to traditional violence were based on preventing it, their wight soldiers were something of an opposite in that they took inordinate amounts of punishment but could also mostly ignore it. Along with the aforementioned Lim-Dûl, the Necromancer, we'll throw in Zombie Master and Boneknitter to represent these subordinates' unstoppable shambling.

It's worth noting that the unfortunate title of the Regenerate mechanic frequently confuses players about how it actually works, in that it's less "regeneration" and more "death prevention", but that's actually kind of perfect for our flavor needs.

The Iceman Cometh

While reanimation was their most notable signature, our wrinkly lads were also quite famous for their wintry demeanor, complementing the literal winter surrounding them at all times. Blue has a long standing tradition of Letting It Go, which manifests mechanically in tapping down creatures. These cards will turn out to be remarkably practical, not just for incidentally screwing with our opponents' plans, but in some cases letting us completely blow out late-game creature gridlocks with our Zombies!

I've put in most of what I consider to be the most valuable freeze/tap cards, but it would be inappropriate to include Wall of Frost. The Wall stands in definitive opposition to the Night King, and were it not for the exceptional luck of encountering a dragon to Reanimate, it may have proven to be an unbeatable opponent (considering that waiting on Dragon Delivery Express was his only plan that we know of).

Also on the snow topic, you better believe we're cramming in snow-covered lands instead of basics, so let's throw in some snow tech for fun and profit. Who the hell thought Winter's Chill was a good idea? It's terrible, I love it.

Darkness, No Parents

Rarely is a section so explicitly necessitated by our villain's actual name, but here we are. (Get it? He's called The Night King because he brought The Long Night! But there's also a case to be made that it's the show writers' confused butchering of a different character's name from the books.) These are both solid cards besides, and we've got a consistent tribe to declare for Cover of Darkness.

Breaker of Toys

These are realistically all cards that we should toss in anyway, but I'd like to call specific attention to the fact that they translate well into that totally sick thing White Walkers do where they just grab someone's sword and freeze it so it SHATTERS (god, this show used to be so COOL, pun definitely intended). Disenchant is pretty much the best value there is, Aura of Silence disrupts the entire enemy toy production process, and Dismantling Blow was accidentally stapled to a Divination.


Alright, it may be time to disembark the Flavor Train and see about putting in some synergies.

Killing Stuff is Cool

The EDHREC pages for our board wipes and White Walkers recommend all manner of goodies to take advantage of how much we love to watch our enemies die. Overseer of the Damned is of particular note in that it's almost a White Walker in its own right.

Freezing Stuff is Cooler

Verity Circle is an absolute must-have in this deck. Like holy god, can you imagine that with a Blustersquall? Disgusting. Theft of Dreams fills a similar role and has some bonus flavor for the dream infiltration that our King does to Bran. (Final gripe: why didn't they just clarify that the Bran crossing the Wall with the dream mark thingy was the reason the Night King could pass the Wall? Someday I will process the grief of the ten years I lost to this show but perhaps it is not this day.) And our potential value with Sunblast Angel is just too good to pass up!

Whoomp, there it is! Check out the final decklist!

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What do you think? Is Winter coming for some of these cards, or do you Hear them Roar? Is the decklist Growing Strong, or is Yours The Fury at some of my inclusions? Would a revision see these cards Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, or Did We Not Sow ourselves a cohesive list? And whose nefarious designs should I reconstruct in the next installment of Diabolic Intent?

Amos has been playing Magic since OG Innistrad, where in his first ever draft pack he passed a shiny Grimgrin for a Corpse Lunge. He hails from the icy wastes of Vermont, where he enjoys hunting Warhammer players on his dogsled and watching movies. You can follow his Tweeter at @Byrnenator.

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