Underdog's Corner - Digging Up Sek'Kuar

(Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper | Art by Jesper Ejsing)

Digging Up the Past

Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of the Underdog's Corner! I write about commanders that, for one reason or another, get less appreciation that they should. They might have been released with a host of other powerful legends who overshadowed them, they might be in a color combination with stiff competition, or just have an ability that requires a lot of effort to make work. No matter the cause, those underdogs tend to be overlooked, and deserve more attention.

For today, I'm continuing my journey into the past to see how the times might have changed our outlook on one of my favorite underdogs, Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper.

I've wanted to return to Sek'Kuar for a while now; when I made my guest appearance on the EDHRECast, I mentioned Sek'Kuar was probably my proudest brew. I also discussed how he can act as a "Jund Lands" commander, surprising your opponents with an unexpected twist (we'll get to the 'how' in a moment). Not two weeks after recording that episode, however, Commander 2018's themes were announced, including - you guessed it - Jund Lands.

Lord Windgrace's popularity bumped Sek'Kuar down to the 6th place commander in Jund. We've also since made the acquaintance of Vaevictus Asmadi, the Dire, who may one day eclipse Sek'Kuar as well.

None of that should discourage us, though; Sek'Kuar is quite interesting and extremely unique, so let's revisit his abilities and see what he brings to the table.

Whenever another nontoken creature you control dies, create a 3/1 black and red Graveborn creature token with haste.

Sek'Kuar is one of the few legends in the game that cares specifically about our nontoken creatures dying (we'll talk about others soon). When they do, we create a 3/1 black and red Graveborn creature token with haste. This probably immediately nixes any tribal synergies we want to include as "Graveborn" isn't a common creature type. Tension also arises with this ability; we want nontoken creatures we control to die, but we also want triggers and abilities that benefit tokens. Usually these types of effects aren't compatible.

As restrictive as that sounds, it actually opens up a lot of creative space that we can work with if we're willing to dig into it. Normally, these effects incentivize us to include as many creature cards in the deck as possible, but that's not all we have to work with.

One of my favorite interactions is with Morph and Manifest. Whenever a face down creature dies, it'll trigger Sek'Kuar. Cards like Zoetic Cavern or Obscuring Aether increases our "creature count" by effectively letting us turn noncreatures into creatures.

Then we have cards like Whisperwood Elemental that let us Manifest all of our nontokens as a form of boardwipe insurance. These will trigger our death triggers even if they're lands, instants, sorceries, etc. Sek'Kuar turns the downside of Manifest into an upside. We can even include "fun-of" cards like Ghastly Conscription to fit that theme. Wildcall and Rageform are cards that let us go deeper without necessarily sacrificing a card slot for more creatures.

With this idea of using noncreatures to become nontoken creatures, what else do we have at our disposal?

These are a bit different that what you might expect, but most of the "Hidden" cards like Hidden Guerrillas, Hidden Stag, or [Hidden Herd[/el] can function as cheap nontoken creatures. They do require a trigger to become a creature, but until then, they can safely sit on the board. I don't think any of these except Hidden Guerillas will make the cut, though; their inclusion would warrant additional resources to have access to greater synergy. Guerillas has a shot because it can be a trampling 5/3 for one mana, and someone is bound to play a Signet or a Sol Ring at some point. A one-drop 5/3 that can become a 3/1 when it dies? Excellent stuff.

Next is Titania's Song. This is a great way to make other decks' sources of ramp vulnerable, and we're primed to prey on that. If Sek'Kuar is on the board, any Wrath effect we cast will destroy enemy mana rocks and utility artifacts, leaving us ahead with a potential army of 3/1 tokens for any artifacts we lost along the way.

Lastly, we have lands. I mentioned previous that on the EDHRECast I'd made a case for Sek'Kuar as a Jund Lands commander. Landfall abilities aren't the only way Jund Lands could take form. Lands that animate themselves are also great ways to fill out your nontoken creature aggression. Blinkmoth Nexus, Inkmoth Nexus, and Mutavault all stand out as their activations are both cheap and can be activated using any type of mana. Beyond that, we also have other options like Hissing Quagmire, Lavaclaw Reaches, Raging Ravine, Spawning Pool, and Treetop Village. That's 8 different lands, and we haven't sacrificed any slots for important support cards. (If you'd feeling bold, though, you can also add effects like Nature's Revolt to make all lands into creatures. A single board wipe leaves your enemies without resources and leaves you with an army of 3/1s!)


Perpetuating Death

To give us a bit of redundancy, let's look at other effects that generate creature tokens from the death of our nontoken creatures. I used the following search terms on Scryfall:

[o:nontoken id<=jund date<=aer o:" token"]

We have quite a few options (27 total) using the above search, and they fall into a few small categories. There are cards like Gutter Grime, which individually trigger off nontoken creatures dying and gives us a steady stream of creatures, just like our commander. Then we have a couple of effects that act as Wrath insurance, such as Caller of the Claw and Vile Redeemer. Finally, some miscellaneous effects generate value from purposeful sacrifice, like Feed the Pack and Korozda Guildmage.


Death Doesn't Discriminate

Earlier I mentioned that there's a bit of tension with Sek'Kuar's ability. We want effects that benefit from nontoken creatures, but we're also generating tokens, which aren't compatible with those specific effects. We need to lean into the 'nontoken' side of things, but we still want our tokens to be impactful. How can we alleviate this tension?

I personally love Vicious Shadows. It's a devastating effect that triggers from any creature dying, not just our own. If we drop this onto a developed board, it could spell the end of the game for our enemies. Fecundity has a chance to backfire, but I'm hopeful that we'll be able to leverage more than others, as we can typically generate multiple bodies when creatures die, and therefore multiple cards.

Lastly we have Death's Presence, another pet card of mine. This is a great way to create a train of value. For example, if we attack with a mass of creatures, any that become blocked will make the survivors even larger. (Do note that, if a nontoken creature dies, you won't be able to put +1/+1 counters on the Graveborn creature Sek'Kuar creates, due to timing restrictions.)

I'm purposely excluding mass-edict effects such as Gravepact and Dictate of Erebos, as I don't personally enjoy the play patterns that they create. However, they are strong inclusions that do deserve a spot in most versions of Sek'Kuar.


Fresh Graves

My original Sek'Kuar article was posted after the release of Aether Revolt, and 13 sets containing new cards have been released since that time. Let's look at the best new cards for this deck in one fell swoop.

[(o:nontoken or o:dies or (o:"creature card" o:graveyard)) id<=jund date>aer -is:reprint]

This Scryfall search term finds all cards (130!) within the Jund color identity released after Aether Revolt with either "nontoken" or "creature cards" or "dies" in their rules text. "Creature cards" will catch cards with Undergrowth and any other cards that benefit from a deck with a high nontoken creature count. This search isn't perfect, but it will find a lot of pertinent cards.

I recently realized Guardian Project interacts incredibly well with Morph and Manifest. Face-down creatures have no name that they can share, so they'll always draw us a card, even with other face-down creatures on the battlefield.

Journey to Eternity is one of my favorite cards released in the past two years. In green-black decks, sacrificing creatures is trivial, and now we get even more rewards for it! Slapping it on a Sakura-Tribe Elder on turn three is awesome, and I don't think I'll top that anytime soon.

Thrilling Encore, at worst, is a mass reanimation spell to recur our board, and at best, reanimates everyone's dead creature after a Wrath resolves. The card is insane.

These are more for redundancy than novelty. Poison-Tip Archer is one of most effective Blood Artist effects currently in the game. The Archer triggers off any creature dying like Blood Artist, and it hits each opponent like Zulaport Cutthroat. Midnight Reaper is a variation of Grim Haruspex, and I've honestly enjoyed playing Reaper much more because it draws a card for its own death. You probably will still play both, but it's nice to have another body.

Judith, the Scourge Diva is one of the other few legends who looks at dying nontoken creatures. Whenever that happens, we get to ping any target. While I doubt we'll be killing people with that ability, pinging adds up to be a very annoying tool for crowd control. Additionally, don't forget she gives creatures we control +1/+0. That's often overlooked, but with a mass of 3/1s with haste, it adds up.

Open the Graves's mana cost is a lot to ask for an effect like this, but in a deck built to leverage these triggers, I think it will pull enough weight to shine. I've been experimenting with Bramble Sovereign in every green deck I've brewed since its release, and I think I like it here. Duplicating a creature lets us sacrifice the original for some 'nontoken creature dying' death triggers, while still keeping the copy around to generate the value we need.

Izoni, Thousand-Eyed was fairly maligned upon release, but she has worked herself to be in contention for the third-most played commander from Guilds of Ravnica. While she may not be as exciting as a commander to some people, she definitely fits perfectly into this build. We can create a mass of tokens after filling our graveyard, and we can use her ability to trigger all of those nontoken death effects while drawing a card.

Speaking of drawing cards, I'll do a quick shout-out to Dark-Dweller Oracle, who lets us trade our creatures in for an impulse draw. While we may have better options for draw with black and green in our colors, I really like what this Goblin brings to the format.


Bringing the Dead to Life

That brings our homecoming with Sek'Kuar to an end. I hope you enjoyed revisiting our resident Orc Shaman, and I hope it provided insight into what this underrated Shaman is capable of. Hopefully it will inspire you to take a creative look at some other under-appreciated legends.

Unlike my original article, this one has a decklist! Below is a compilation of the ideas discussed today, and I hope you can use this as a launch point for your own Sek'Kuar deck.

”Bring out your Dead!”

Commander (1)
Creature (30)
Instant (3)
Sorcery (7)
Artifact (6)
Enchantment (14)
Planeswalker (2)
Land (37)

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Thanks for joining me in the Underdog's Corner!

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64