Underdog's Corner - Gyrus, Waker of Corpses

The Wake of Commander 2018

Hello, everyone! It is good to be back with another installment of the Underdog's Corner. If you have been in a coma, locked in a basement, or maybe stranded on a deserted island, first, welcome back to civilization, and second, Commander 2018 has officially released! Commander Christmas has come and gone, and now people have their hands on these new cards. I'm excited to build plenty of decks from the set, but I only get to cover one legend in this article.

For those who have never read this series before, every other week I give a spotlight to a commander that needs a little extra love. This could be from a lack of tangible number of decks on the EDHREC website compared to other legends in its color combination, or it could be a lack of attention compared to its peers from its own set. Whichever way it is, I'm here to put that legend in the spotlight. With the release of Commander 2018, inevitably some legends will get left behind. Even commanders that I predict will be "unpopular" by sheer numbers (such as Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor) still got some excitement from their spoiler.

This week, I want to talk about a legend that hasn't yet gotten the chance to excite players. Let's give it up for Gyrus, Waker of Corpses.

Gyrus, Waker of Corpses

Coming in with the most metal art and name of Commander 2018 is Gyrus, Waker of Corpses. From the get-go, Gyrus has been one of the most universally panned of the new legends, and really, it's not the Hydra's fault. We've received so many powerful cards without restrictions in the past that Gyrus seems to "lack" what those legends have. That alone has relegated Gyrus to 'forgotten and scoffed at' status almost immediately by the online Magic community. Additionally, it's also not a "lands-matter" commander, but I won't get into that discussion. You can find a host of other podcasts or articles that will tell you why that particular fact is disappointing. Now, we're done with the negativity. We're here to talk about what Gyrus can do, and why an immediate dismissal of Gyrus is unnecessary. Let's get started!

Gyrus, Waker of Corpses enters the battlefield with a number of +1/+1 counters on it equal to the amount of mana spent to cast it.

Look at that! It's the same text from Marath, Will of the Wild! I love flirting with the command zone in this way, and I'm glad to see that this particularly got brought back. This means that Gyrus will always be at least a 3/3 (barring extreme corner-cases), and as the game goes on, it will progressively grow bigger. That feeds into Gyrus's next ability. One thing I want to point about before moving on, though, is that Gyrus is the first Jund commander that is a mana sink from the command zone itself. Within the Jund legendary creature spectrum, only Maga, Traitor to Mortals and Grenzo, Dungeon Warden have an {X} in their mana costs as well. If we expand on that, only Verdeloth the Ancient also acts as a scaling mana dump from the command zone, thanks to the {X} in its Kicker cost. I think this is actually a very powerful innate ability for our commander to have, but we'll get to the reason why later.

Whenever Gyrus attacks, you may exile target creature card with lesser power from your graveyard. If you do, create a token that’s a copy of that card and that’s tapped and attacking. Exile the token at end of combat.

So why should we be excited about Gyrus' scaling power? This second ability, obviously. Each combat, Gyrus can resurrect a single creature from our graveyard. This is where the negativity about power level comes from, and I will admit this was where my initial criticisms came from as well.

Here's the factors that we need to consider once we start attacking with Gyrus:

  • This triggers each time Gyrus attacks. This means extra combat steps can allow us to recur multiple creatures.
  • The ability exiles the creature card, and it has to be from our graveyard. Additionally, the target needs to have a lesser power than Gyrus.
  • A token is created that's tapped and attacking. This shouldn't be surprising as it's a combat-based effect, but this does prevent us from benefiting from "attack triggers" from Grave Titan or Inferno Titan.
  • We exile the token at the end of combat. This throws a wrench in things a little bit, as we need a sacrifice outlet to generate "dies" triggers, and we can't use additional combat phases to attack with the same token multiple times.

There are a ton of hoops and considerations when and to what we are planning to resurrect with Gyrus. Despite that, I think we actually have some decent options. We just have to consider them wisely.

Early-Age Sacrifices

When one normally thinks of reanimator strategies, we usually think of reanimating big creatures with game-breaking abilities. When we have an Animate Dead in hand, we're not going to want to use that ability to bring back utility creatures, unless it's something impactful like Eternal Witness. This is the first facet where I think Gyrus can carve his place into the Commander world. One thing to remember about utility creatures is that they often have low stats to begin with, and Gyrus cares about these dregs with less power. So where do we start looking to leverage these small advantages?

First, we need to consider that these creatures need to be in the graveyard to begin. Sakura-Tribe Elder is the perfect card for this, since we can sacrifice it at our leisure, not only ramping us, but also giving us an immediate target for Gyrus. After that, Yavimaya Elder shores up another slot, as it can sacrifice itself for both a card draw and two basics to our hand. While this doesn't "ramp" us, it still sets up future turns. After that, we're going to split between enters-the-battlefield triggers from Wood Elves and death triggers like Viridian Emissary. Both require a bit of set up, since neither have a way to trigger their own deaths, but we're in Jund, so that shouldn't be a problem. Additionally, we have even more redundancy with Farhaven Elf and Primal Druid.

Beyond this, can look to other ETB and death triggers on small bodies to support this archetype. This is where the brilliant search engine Scryfall comes into play. Using a combination of parameters (below in brackets), we can find every creature that a minimum-sized 3-power Gyrus can resurrect:

[ id<=Jund POW<=2 (o:dies or o:enter) ]

There are over 700 hits using these parameters, and by sorting with the EDHREC filter in Scryfall, we can locate the most commonly played creatures that meet these criteria. We'll likely find every option we could ever want in the first two pages.

This opens up a variety of options for Gyrus to become somewhat of a toolbox commander. We can fuel graveyard strategies with Sticher's Supplier. We can bring in spot removal with Acidic Slime or a Reclamation Sage. Additionally, we can bring back something like a Flesh Carver or Siege Gang Commander to leave bodies behind. Really, we can shape this minimalist approach any way we want. However, using just small creatures will only get us so far. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death can get away with reusing her effects, but Gyrus only gets one-shot, so we're going to also need a density of impactful effects.

Left at the Altar

Before that though, we really need to discuss sacrifice outlets. We want ways to not only trigger those death triggers for Viridian Emissary and friends, but also have a way to put creatures with ETB effects into the graveyard to revive later. Sure, we can easily jam all of the efficient "usual-suspects" like Ashnod's Altar into the deck, but let's think a little bit about our choices.

Let's look at what I'm going to refer to as "offensive" sac outlets. These cards are going to attack our opponent is some fashion. Goblin Bombardment is the 6th most played sacrifice outlet according to Scryfall's EDHREC filter with this parameter:

[id<=Jund o:"sacrifice a creature:"]

Goblin Bombardment attacks our opponent's life total by converting bodies into damage. Additionally, we can shoot down any number of small utility creatures and small commanders with a small number of disposable bodies. Converting creatures that were destined for the grave into free damage is a great conversion. Attrition is a more direct attack on our opponents, especially since we can gain the benefit from our resurrected creature and then immediately "bin it" to remove a troublesome blocker in front of Gyrus. Sure, it can't target black creatures, but this type of mana efficiency has to pay the price somewhere. Next up is a card that is both offensive and beneficial: Altar of Dementia. Once we start bringing in larger creatures, Altar becomes a threat by attacking our opponent's library. Remember how Gyrus has an {X} in his cost? As a game goes later, we can pump more mana into Gyrus and can sacrifice him for larger and larger chunks of mill. This gets dangerous if we want to include cards like Corpsejack Menace in the list.

Similar to Altar of Dementia, we have several sac outlets that help us grind out extra value from our creatures. Evolutionary Leap is one of my favorite cards in the game, and it should be one of yours too. Every creature you bring back can immediately be turned into another creature card. With Gyrus having a combat trigger, we can potentially play whatever creature we drew with E-Leap in the second main phase. Just like E-Leap, the newly minted Dark-Dweller Oracle turns our creatures into card advantage, though said advantage is only the top card of our deck and only until end of turn. Lastly, we have the recently reprinted and powerful Greater Good. While E-Leap and the Oracle only draws us one card, Greater Good scales with the power of our creatures and really lets us dig deeper into our library. Additionally, thanks to the "discard three" clause of the trigger, we get to fuel our grave as well.

Feel the Power

Lastly, what do we do once the game goes later and we have more mana to pump into Gyrus, Waker of Corpses? Well, let's use more cards that take advantage of that massive power. We've already talked about Greater Good drawing us cards off our progressively larger creatures, but we also have more draw like Soul's Majesty and the highly regarded Rishkar's Expertise. One lament over Gyrus is that despite all of its other restrictions, it also has no evasive keywords. While not exactly evasion by definition, Mage Slayer lets us throw any creature's power around by just attacking, which Gyrus was doing anyways. Additionally, we can add in these damaging effects for our other focuses for the deck as well: entering the battlefield and death triggers. Warstorm Surge lets us turn every creature into a burn spell, and Death's Presence lets us turn every death into more permanent power on the board. Part of me wishes Death's Presence was slightly cheaper so we could not only curve Gyrus into it earlier, but also progressively grow Gyrus's power as well.

Life and Death

While I tried to covered a lot of broad sweeping topics for what I consider the cogs of a Gyrus deck, I didn't really talk about some specific choices I made for this article's decklist. One of the greatest things about Gyrus is that your creature suite and the effects that you bring can be completely varied by the strategy you've chosen. This deck in particular shows off many effects that could appear in a Gyrus deck, but you may not want to include all of them in the same deck!

Hornet Queen and Broodmate Dragon represent two creatures that are easily recurrable with Gyrus and are also evasive attackers to chip in for damage. Most importantly, they leave bodies behind, which is what we really want. Combined with cards like Parallel Lives, this should make up for the loss of the creature itself.

Key to the City was a bit of a "Eureka!" moment; I'm always looking for a home for this cool card. In this deck, not only is it a way to attack and deal damage with Gyrus safely, but it also allows us to pitch a creature card to recur! It may not be much, but I love finding that type of tight synergy while brewing.

Our last two picks are more fun than good, but they're not terrible either. Gorm the Great and Virtus the Veiled help tutor for each other whether coming from the graveyard or our hand. Not only that, but each of them helps push combat in our favor. Gorm draws blockers his way with his ability's requirements, while Virtus will draw blockers as our opponents try not to lose a massive chunk of life.

There's a few more picks hiding in the deck, so check it out!

”Gyrus and the Graveyard Garrison”

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Commander (1)
Creature (34)
Artifact (5)
Instant (3)
Enchantment (11)
Sorcery (10)
Land (36)

That's it for this week! Thanks for joining me in the Underdog's Corner!

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