Monomania – They Call Him Baba Yaga
(Grim Return | Art by Seb McKinnon)
The One You Send to Kill the Boogeyman
Greetings everyone, and welcome back to Monomania. In this article series we build mono-colored decks as a way to explore ramp and draw packages that are synergistic with our particular deck’s strategy. In these articles I try to challenge staples and misconceptions about the color pie. Today, we'll be stepping into the shoes of a professional assassin.
Enter Toshiro Umezawa, a meticulous assassin that uses everything at his disposal to fulfill his contracts. This commander’s effect is essentially card advantage, making our graveyard a well of resources. However, it includes a few important restrictions—most notably that it can only target instants. What’s more, we can only Flashback one instant for each creature that dies. This leads to a very particular strategy and identity inherent to this general. He’s resourceful, precise, and loves his dog.
Obviously, we want a critical mass of instants to take full advantage of the effect, but we also want a variety of effects on those instants—from card advantage to removal to haymakers—so that we can respond to the game state appropriately. We also want to lean toward removing creatures one at a time. Board wipes, although necessary, will usually mean wasted triggers for us. One way that we are going to counteract this is by employing targeted removal. Another is that we are going to use the classic black big mana package with Cabal Coffers, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and Vesuva to make enough mana to capitalize on multiple triggers.
The power here is the flexibility of the commander. We can be extremely reactive to the table. We can play with very specific timing. If any creatures die incidentally, we can choose if we have an apt instant for the moment in our graveyard. That being said, be wary. If your meta or playgroup is creature-light, a Toshiro deck can very easily have trouble getting off the ground. Luckily, we're playing a multiplayer format, so we're likely to have a minimum of one creature-based deck at the table.
Guns. Lots of Guns.
To build Toshiro Umezawa, our ramp package is contingent upon how we’re going to draw cards. So first let’s look at how we're going to maintain a full clip.
We want draw spells that are also instants so we can flash them back later, or spells that can leverage the big mana that black is capable of. I've included a diverse selection of draw spells, some explosive and others piecemeal.
These explosive draw spells are cost-prohibitive, but have the potential to excel. Diabolic Revelation and Dregs of Sorrow are both sorceries, but take advantage of big mana like very few other card advantage effects in black. If we can find Cabal Stronghold or Cabal Coffers, these X-spells become the best cards in our deck.
Necrologia only sees play in 20% of Toshiro Umezawa decks on EDHREC, but it should be a staple. Although it drains life and can only be played right before our discard phase, this instant is extremely valuable, allowing us to choose exactly how many cards we want to draw without any additional mana cost before discarding down to hand size.
These instant-speed effects are all powerful with our general, even though they draw a relatively restricted number of cards. Dark Bargain and Costly Plunder, for example, only net one card; however, it's the ability to flash these instants back that makes these cards so valuable. Because our graveyard is like a second hand for us, we don't mind stashing our instants there with Insidious Dreams, Dark Bargain, or Moonlight Bargain.
Now that we know how we’re going to dig through our deck, let’s see how we’re going to ramp up for some truly spectacular values for X.
Everything’s Got a Price
Our commander costs one generic and two black mana to cast, meaning without Sol Ring or Dark Ritual, it will be nearly impossible to cast him earlier than turn three. As such, our ramp package won't focus on getting to any particular amount quickly, but rather to facilitate our spell-slinging strategy.
We don't employ a curve in the traditional sense; we won't be trying to put pressure on the board from turn one. Instead of trying to reach six mana on turn four, we will rather be aiming to reach fifteen or more mana at a pivotal moments a few turns later.
First, we have a suite of big mana effects in black to complement Cabal Coffers and Cabal Stronghold. Each of these can help us produce large amounts of mana to search for all of the best cards in our deck with Diabolic Revelation, or to reanimate our entire graveyard with Finale of Eternity. Black Market is especially powerful for us because it benefits from our innately trigger-happy core strategy.
Everyone knows Dark Ritual. While it isn't necessarily at its best in Commander, it does perform well in Toshiro, sometimes allowing us to chain removal spells. Spoils of Evil, on the other hand, has been largely forgotten and is extremely underrated, seeing play in only 79 decks on EDHREC. Sure, the floor is low—in specific circumstances, it might only gain a few points of life. Graveyard-based decks are extremely popular, though, and if we sit down across from a necromancer, Spoils of Evil will produce a ridiculous amount of mana at some point in the game. On top of that, our strategy relies on filling our opponents’ graveyards, which in turn adds fuel for this card.
Because we’re playing cards like Skeletal Scrying, Necrologia, and Necropotence, which only allow us to draw big before our discard phase, Thought Vessel is perfect here. We want to avoid discarding cards, and as such, eliminating our maximum hand size is very desirable. Jet Medallion also furthers our strategy, discounting our removal spells as well as the instants we recast. Since our deck is built to cast multiple spells in a turn, we will get the discount on each of them and the Medallion will easily outperform any other mana rock available.
With a solid foundation for ramp and draw, let’s bring it all together with a decklist. Because this deck plays so aggressively with its life total as well as the cards in its graveyard, it can be fairly difficult to pilot, presenting us with important decision points on any given turn. Toshiro likes to be poised, reposed, and reactive, waiting for specific moments to strike. Among the other notable inclusions here, we have various packages to support our main strategy.
To supplement our deck's fun factor, we can try to steal a win with Revel in Riches or stampede over our opponents with their own deceased creatures using Grave Betrayal.
With all of the spells in our deck that cause incidental life loss, we need some way to gain it back. Sangromancer has a decent effect that can gradually replenish our life total over the course of the game without appearing too threatening. In addition, we have other ways to incidentally drain life such as Blood Artist, Massacre Wurm, and Pontiff of Blight.
While these effects can help put our opponents within killing range, we have no way to abuse them; therefore, we will usually need something else to deliver the final stroke such as a supercharged Torment of Hailfire or Exsanguinate. If all else fails, we can assemble the Sanguine Bond + Exquisite Blood combo to finish the job.
They Call Him Baba Yaga
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That's all for today. What do you all think of Toshiro Umezawa? Have you seen him in action before? Do you think he shares an uncanny resemblance to Keanu Reeves? As always, please do comment with interactions I missed, your thoughts, and alternative directions for the commander. Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. Take care and I'll see you all on down the road.