Reconstruct History — Sheoldred, Whispering One (and Other Edict Effects)
(Sheoldred, Whispering One | Art by Jana Schirmer and Johannes Voss)
Nice Voltron commander you got there, wielding every Equipment and Aura imaginable and decked out head-to-toe with protection. It'd be a shame if they still managed a sudden demise!
Welcome back to another installment of Reconstruct History, where we look at popularity in cards and archetypes here at EDHREC over time.
This week, I wanted to take a look at what felt like 'classic' Commander cards. The inspiration for this piece came from none other than the spider-y looking, multi-jointed Yoga queen of black metal herself: Sheoldred, Whispering One.
In the yesteryears of Commander, it seemed like any and all black decks would jam this haymaker, or other budget variants, like Archfiend of Depravity or Butcher of Malakir. To me, these embodied the classic top end of black creatures that choke the life out of the table via "edict" effects, named for the renowned Diabolic Edict.
Some may be inclined to call them "stax" cards, where others simply prefer "control," or "pressure." I like to think of them as akin to boa constrictors, where they progressively squeeze resources from the table, provided they have the time (in the case of upkeep/end step triggers, like Archfiend of Depravity) or recursion (in the case of Fleshbag Marauder variants). Sheoldred in particular slowly culls opposing board states while rebuilding your own from the graveyard.
Their counterparts might be called "snowballs" or "army-in-a-can" variants, which, if left unchecked, seem to sprout boards out of nowhere all by themselves. For example, see Tendershoot Dryad, Wolverine Riders, or (ironically, the actual snake) Koma, Cosmos Serpent,
All of these cards are the kind of haymakers that often require a sizeable mana investment and multiple turns to get their full use. With much of the Commanderscape emphasizing the general leaning of mana values and faster games, I wanted to see just how well some of these edict options stacked up. So without further ado, let's get to culling that board!
There're a lot of edict effects in Magic: the Gathering's history. Like, a lot a lot. Plotting every single edict card would be a large undertaking, and doing so wouldn't illustrate what we're after, so let's build in some criteria to constrain our overall dataset:
- Metric: Rank (out of black-specific cards)
- Cards analyzed: Creatures that force each opponent to sacrifice a creature on ETB, LTB, upkeep, or end step
- Timeframe: "Last" two years (January 2020 – January 2022)
- Breaks: Year of printing, and/or monthly intervals
We're in the process of updating the site's data (and by extension the data for this series), so I hope to have some of this influx of Spring 2022 included in future articles. For now, let's see how these cards have fared over the last two years, generally speaking.
This leaves us with the following, admittedly arbitrary, list of cards to look at:
List of cards analyzedView on Archidekt
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Limiting ourselves to only mono-black creatures with enough data means we are bound to miss out on some options out there. Below is a list of some other effective options if you're in the market for ensuring your opponents have a nice,steady conduit from the battlefield to the graveyard. The Morgue Thrull and Corpse Haulers and Corpse Traders have to make a living somehow, right?
Some other sacrifice optionsView on Archidekt
There are some undoubtedly sweet options here, including ones that would fit our criteria, like Chain Devil, Gravelighter, or Dusk Mangler. We just haven't had enough data to matriculate yet to properly gauge them. I certainly can't wait to see someone rip a Dusk Mangler out of the 'yard (though preferably not against me).
Meanwhile, Acererak the Archlich and Kuon, Ogre Ascendant have potential to be repeatable edicts, but they have some hoops to jump through first. I decided to leave these ones out for now, but if anyone is begging for a Kuon plot, leave a note in the comments below!
Our cards analyzed can be seen plotted below in a carousel, organized alphabetically. Keep an eye on that changing Y-axis (Rank); I wanted to make sure each card had a Y-axis scaled to its own popularity trends. In the second carousel below, we'll co-plot all of the cards with a fixed Y-axis to better facilitate comparisons between cards.
Rank score of black creatures that force each opponent to sacrifice creatures over last 2 years (Jan 2020 - Jan 2022)
Here's a grid plot of the cards side-by-side so you can more easily compare their popularity trends to one another. I've included all cards analyzed with a Y-axis scaled from Rank 1 to 2000, while the later plots in the carousel trim the Y-axis to rank of 1200 and 500, respectively, so you can better see some of the more popular cards 'zoomed in.'
Faceted plot of black creatures that force each opponent to sacrifice creatures
Generally, we see a lot of the ETB creatures being quite high and steady in popularity (e.g., Fleshbag Marauder), though others don't fare so popular (e.g., Goremand). Conversely, the cards that offer repeatable upkeep and/or end-step edict effects vary depending on their efficacy: Sheoldred, Whispering One still holds pretty steady as the ~50th most popular black card, while Butcher of Malakir and Archfiend of Depravity continue to remain in the top 100 and 200 black cards, respectively, though both Butcher and Archfiend do seem to be trending downwards.
Butcher of Malakir in particular saw quite a crash towards rank 100, but skyrocketed back around June with a series of reprints in Commander Anthology: Volume 2 (June, 2018) and Innistrad: Midnight Hunt (Sept. 2021) and Crimson Vow precons (Nov. 2021). Part of its surge in the last few months is likely due to the fact that Vampires got a lot of support in the return to Innistrad sets, especially Strefan, Maurer Progenitor, which currently includes Butcher of Malakir in 78% of the sizeable 2229 decks to date. However, I can't help but wonder: if it didn't see so many reprints, would it continue to be so popular? Is its roller coaster popularity the result of "the Precon Effect", seeing a "boost" in play with each successive precon inclusion? I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Then there's Slum Reaper: arguably the poster
child Horror for power creep. Back in 2017, when your options were Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner, you may have considered running Slum Reaper if you really wanted some extra reach into the edict effects. Costing one more mana than its other counterparts didn't help it then, nor did having a fairly irrelevant creature type until recently (with Umbris, Fear Manifest and Captain N'ghathrod). However, the printing of Plaguecrafter (Guilds of Ravnica, October 2018), Demon's Disciple (Zendikar Rising, September 2020), and even the new Gravelighter (Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty February 2022) were three proverbial nails to Slum Reaper's popularity coffin.
Others, like Woebringer Demon, see woefully low popularity, which makes sense considering you don't really want to cull your opponents' creatures just to have to sacrifice your own.
Time to Reflect
With boards cleared and graveyards full, it's time to reflect on whose edict reigns supreme!
Let's start by taking a look at the price of each of these cards (in $USD) by the percentage of eligible decks they are run in (i.e., their popularity).
Unsurprisingly, Sheoldred, Whispering One leads the charge price-wise, but sees less play than Plaguecrafter and barely sees more play than Fleshbag Marauder. In fact, outside of Sheoldred, Rankle, Master of Pranks, and Archfiend of Depravity, practically all of these cards are less than $1!
Sheoldred herself has experienced quite a dip in price in the last few years, thanks to reprints in both Jumpstart (July 2020) and the Secret Lair: Phyrexian Praetors — Compleat Edition (Oct. 2021). Conversely, what I once considered a truly budget option of Archfiend of Depravity has slowly been creeping up, but for now still remains under $5.
Overall, I think this goes to show that there are some great options for forcing sacrifices on behalf of your opponents without having to break the bank.
Imminent, or Immediate Death? (And Also BBQ)
I'll be honest, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Archfiend of Depravity, and Butcher of Malakir all fared better than I thought they would. It's probably a confluence of reprints, accessibility, and the fact that they still embody what black haymakers can be, even in the modern Commanderscape. The leaning of mana values doesn't need to trim all fat. Commander is still a format of expression and indulgence. After all, what's a good brisket without a little marbling and fat to render?
But also, like barbecue, you have to ask yourself: do you have the time to really make it?
Prepping and smoking a 12-pound brisket can take anywhere from 12 hours or even more, depending on size, your smoker, temperature, etc. Plus, just like a brisket does best in the smoker for a while, Sheoldred, Whispering One does best when it sticks around for multiple turns. Unlike her other fast-food Praetorian counterparts (Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, and Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur; sorry Urabrask the Hidden), Sheoldred takes time to work her magic, which is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, she doesn't scream "remove me this instant!" like Jinny-G or Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger might. However, that also means she could resolve, and functionally do nothing if removed expediently.
One of the shortcuts in barbecue is the famed Texas Crutch, whereby the meat is wrapped (either in foil or butcher paper) to help insulate the moisture and push the meat past "the stall" (where the meat hits a plateau in cooking temperature by evaporating more moisture than the ambient heat present low-temperature environments like smokers). Surely the last thing you want is an expensive cut of
meat cardboard in your hands without ample time to get it out and work its magic.
I think She Ole' Dred and Archfiend of Depravity can similarly bypass a bit of their
long cook times mana-values with a well-timed Entomb + Reanimate, or otherwise being cheated for their mana value. Getting any of these haymakers out early before anyone else has had a chance to develop creatures means you can potentially keep the board clear, or at the least tempo of some of your opponent's early game if they're forced to remove your threat. It's all the indulgence, but ahead of schedule!
Conversely, your Fleshbag Marauder and Plaguecrafter variants come in hot and ready in a fraction of the time. Their ETB means their value is felt immediately, and their phrasing of "each player" means everyone is going to taste some of their effect. They're cheap, effective, and a party favorite. In essence they're the chicken wings of barbecue... which raises the question: can you ever have just one?
We've gotten such a redundancy in these effects over the years, and have literally three more (Gravelighter, Dusk Mangler, Chain Devil) just in the last few months!
The consistent printing of these ETB-related edict effects on a creature means that space is crowded, and you really have to start choosing which works best for your deck. Fleshbag Marauder still sees a lot of play likely because it's also a Zombie, while Plaguecrafter and Demon's Disciple just have so much more reach than Merciless Executioner and Slum Reaper once did. Still, a high density of any of these in the right deck, like Araumi of the Dead Tide or Tergrid, God of Fright, can cause absolute havoc.
I understand full well that edicts are not everyone's cup of tea, especially when paired with things like Tergrid, God of Fright, but I do think they have an important place in black's removal suite to reach into all of those hexproof, indestructible, and ward effects that may be causing problems. Overall, I'm pleasantly surprised to see some of these bigger haymakers still seeing a good amount of play, and that most of the cards analyzed here today can be purchased quite affordably. After all, one of the true beauties of barbecue is taking affordable meats and treating them with the time, craft, and skill they deserve to make them shine.
What are your thoughts? Do you lean towards the ETB variants that cause disarray on resolution, or do you like the "boa constrictors" that slowly grind away opponents' resources? Maybe a bit of both? What's your favorite style/cut of barbecue? Let me know in the comments below!