Uncommonders - Shirei's Immortal Army

(Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker | Art by Wayne Reynolds)

Uncommon and Unkillable

It feels like it has been so long, but here we are again, you lovely readers! I am Seth Cross, known by friends as “DM”, and this is Uncommonders, the series inspired by the twenty uncommon rarity legendary creatures that were printed all the way back in Dominaria. It is insane to think that in a few short months, Dominaria will have been out for an entire year. After a quick hiatus to focus on the Replacement Commanders series for Commander 2018, we're back to discussing our silver-stamped family!

This week I'm excited to delve into a new addition to the uncommon rarity, all thanks to its rarity shift in Ultimate Masters. Of course, I am talking about:

Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker

Shirei was printed in a strange time in Magic: the Gathering. The Kamigawa block was loaded with 102 legendary creatures, each capable of being a commander, with four in particular at the uncommon rarity: Brothers Yamazaki, Nagao, Bound by Honor, Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro, and Sosuke, Son of Seshiro.

(NOTE: Quick shout-out to Scryfall.com for having such a fantastic search engine and great team of people working on both that and their social media. I needed help finding the cards that were printed at uncommon after their original printing in Kamigawa block. They answered me with a link in under 20 minutes after asking them on Twitter! You can follow them there via @scryfall!)

Over the years, three more cards have been added to Kamigawa's list of uncommonders. Iwamori of the Open Fist, downshifted in Masters 25 and featured in a previous Uncommonder article Uncommonder article, and Hikari, Twilight Guardian, from Modern Masters 2015. Now Shirei joins the family, which is right up my alley. You see, I have this weird affinity for putting things into the graveyard in order to bring them back out.

Shirei's ability is unique because of its restrictions. Mono-black is great at sacrificing creatures for all kinds of benefits, but this deck specifically needs creatures with 1 or 0 power, plus some ways to keep Shirei on the battlefield to ensure they come back. On the flip side of that restriction, though, there is no limitation on how many creatures can be returned. If your entire field of 1/1 creatures are sacrificed and Shirei survives, your entire army is coming back. Furthermore, Shirei does not specify that they return on our end step, just the next end step. We get to sacrifice creatures during everyone’s turn for that sweet value! (Remember, though, that token creatures disappear once they hit the graveyard, so we're gonna be looking at nontoken creatures.)

Cheap Shirei, What a Twist!

For this article, I am doing something a little different. For those of you who follow me on Twitter or know me from my team’s YouTube channel, weekly Twitch streams, or weekly live podcast, we have generated a budget format of Commander played on Magic Online called 3DH, or 3 Dollar Highlander. The idea is that each deck is budgeted to only cost $3 total, with basic lands not counted toward the budget. Due to the skewed economy of Magic Online, the power of these decks can surprise you!

During the Twitch streams, we sometimes do giveaways where someone wins the chance to brew decks with me on the Praetor Magic Discord server and I buy the deck for them, giving it to them afterward for free! One of my recent giveaway winners chose Shirei, so the list we are working with today is the list we brewed on the server for that giveaway! (Since this list is based on a budget, I wanted to make that known so people do not immediately comment “what about XYZ card?”)

Sacrificial Lambs

Creatures in Magic: the Gathering are basically meant to die for their causes. Commander is a format where this is even more common, as the format is rife with board wipes and the like. As many may know by now, I am the kind of player that facilitates sending my own creatures to the battlefield, so long as I get something out of it. That means tons of these creatures will give us rewards while they take a short nap. In this deck, the creatures may be small but the value they give us is large. Abyssal Gatekeeper is a baby Grave Pact effect. Bottle Gnomes are fun to loop each turn to, gaining 12 life over the course of a single four-player round. Heap Doll is very important if the meta is filled with other decks that play with graveyards. Summoner’s Egg with a sacrifice outlet can cheat creatures onto the battlefield. Both Doomed Dissenter and Myr Sire can create an army when sacrificed every turn!

Of course, the dying creatures are not the only way to get value. Many of our other cards will care about all those bodies flitting in and out of the cemetery. Pitiless Plunderer has become a huge favorite of mine in any black deck, and is even more fun with Pawn of Ulamog. Those are great for ramp, but we cannot forget card advantage, which is why I like Smothering Abomination, Harvester of Souls and Grim Haruspex. With any deck designed to have creatures dying constantly, we must run the classics Zulaport Cutthroat and Blood Artist. (NOTE: I would normally run Falkenrath Noble in Aristocrat builds, but seeing as Shirei cares about 1-power creatures, we opted to leave that one out of the list for now.)

I want to highlight a couple of cards that I thoroughly enjoy in this deck because I think the synergy is fun. Open the Graves should not be a big surprise to anyone, given how many nontoken creatures we plan on sacrificing. Desecrated Tomb, however, has found a slot in many of my decks that involve a lot of recursion, and this deck is another match made in sacrifice heaven. Between these two, we can sacrifice a single Bottle Gnomes to gain life and get two more bodies on the board, one of which even flies, which can be a big deal.

A More Permanent End

Every deck needs a way to close out the game. While sacrificing things and bringing them back are fun shenanigans, it may not put an end to our opponents. Some of the big ways to end the game are Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which we can luckily return and recast with Cadaver Imp. Due to budget, we could not include Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers to make a billion black mana, but Crypt Ghast, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Cabal Stronghold along with the mana from Pitiless Plunderer and Spawn of Ulamog tokens might get us there with an Exsanguinate. If we are lucky, we can have Thespian Stage copy Stronghold (keeping in mind that Nykthos is legendary) to have even more mana.

I have been pretty outspoken (at least on Twitter and Discord) against Torment of Hailfire, but this was a giveaway deck and the card was requested by the winner. Let us also face reality; Hailfire can close games out, even without extra mana, because it can set us so much farther ahead than everyone else. Outside of the above options, controlling the battlefield through Pact effects, hitting a big Living Death, or just creating tons more tokens than our opponents can deal with are all basic but perfectly good ways to win the game!

The Immortal Caretaker

Last, but certainly not least, I want to draw attention to three specific cards. Because of the timing of Shirei’s ability, protecting him is very important. Darksteel Plate, Mask of Avacyn and Dark Privilege are all means of doing that. Naturally, we also kept the staple Lightning Greaves, and Swiftfoot Bootsas a five-cost commander can be awkward to try to cast if we were running Swiftfoot Boots. Throw it all together, and this is the list:

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Ultimate Mastery

Outside of Ultimate Masters, I will admit that I have not been a fan of most of the Masters sets. I think the product simply was not built for me (which is fine, by the way), but any time I looked through the sets, I was never personally impressed. I will say, though, since I began writing this series, Masters sets have been a great way to see fun commanders shifted from rare down to uncommon. Changes like that tend to catch my eye, just like the Uncommonders of Dominaria, which inspired this entire series.

I look forward to finishing off the Dominaria uncommon legendary creatures and a few more from the past before moving onto greener (and redder, and bluer, and whiter, and blacker) pastures. For now, though, it feels good to be writing Uncommonders again after the break for Replacement Commanders, and I hope it feels good reading it again!

Don't forget, comments down below may be featured in the next article! Speaking of which, my favorite comment from last time was from David Manning, who said;

I'll be honest; my first thought was Mirror Gallery; turning all your tokens into a Krenko seems bonkers fun, since you have so many ways to make token copies of your own creatures. Any reason you didn't include it in the list? Besides the sheer fact that now you have an artifact as the linchpin to your entire army...

This is always my concern when dealing with linchpins or “key components” of a deck, even when it's the commander. Budget Shirei suffered a bit from this, since removing him from the field can really disrupt the deck. For the most part, I find it much more successful to build decks that can function properly even without the commander ever seeing the battlefield. For example, my five Commander decks in paper right now are Jodah, Archmage Eternal Super Friends, Edgar Markov Tribal Vampires, Muldrotha, the Gravetide Sultai Value Permanents, Lord Windgrace Jund Lands Matter, and Krenko, Mob Boss Mono-Red Combo. All the decks can and have won without the general ever even being cast, though it is obviously much smoother if I have a chance to get them on the field. Thanks for the comment, David!

Until next time, feel free to follow me on Twitter and join the public Praetor Magic Discord server for all kinds of Magic: the Gathering and Commander-specific talk! If you enjoyed the idea of playing Commander for basically $3 a deck, make sure you join the server and potentially sign up for the weekly streamed games, which you can catch on Twitch.tv every Wednesday and Friday at 9 PM EST! You can see more of my ridiculous deck building over on the Praetor Magic YouTube channel, too!

See you next time!

DM Cross started playing Magic: the Gathering when he was 8 years old. Currently 29 years old, he's become an avid lover of the EDH/Commander format and is constantly keeping an eye on everything coming out to see how to tune and tweak his favorite decks. DM can be found on Twitter @DM_Cross