It has been well observed among the Magic community that despite the name, Modern Horizons brings new tech to almost every format. By excluding these new cards from Standard, it feels like the designers at WotC let their imagination run wild. In the process they spawned a bunch of exciting and powerful cards… including the long-awaited incarnation of Magic’s greatest villain!
As a 4-mana creature with several powerful abilities to help trade off your resources, it remains to be seen whether the Father of Machines will have a place in the new Modern meta. But as soon as I saw the card spoiled, I knew that didn’t matter to me – because Yawgmoth, tall, dark and gruesome, is far more exciting as a new mono-black Commander!
What are we, casual??
So now is probably a good time to confess; I love Commander, at least as much as I do more traditional forms of Magic. At times when I haven’t been able to buy into Standard or make it to events, gathering around a kitchen table with friends for some multiplayer action has been my main way to stay in touch with the game, and it has invaluably broadened my MTG experience. Commander/EDH deckbuilding and play allows for so much expression and experimentation – you can make almost any pet card work, explore archetypes now lost to time, have the craziest combo turns anywhere, and generally celebrate the fun parts of Magic.
I always keep an eye out for the next Legendary Creature which inspires me, and for Modern Horizons, Yawgmoth is it. I’m a huge fan of “Aristocrats” style decks, having spent several months this year jamming Priest of Forgotten Gods in Standard, and Yawgmoth is one of the best engines such a deck could ask for!
Yawg 1.0 by Thomas Anderson
Deckbuilding for Fun, Then Profit
There are two conflicting ideologies at play when Magic players build Commander decks. On the one hand, you have access to almost any card in Magic’s history. This means you have access to every powerful staple and crazy engine in the game. It’s also generally well known what the safe ratios are for numbers of lands, mana rocks, board wipes, etc.
For mono color decks in particular, this means you can quickly narrow down the majority of best-in-slot cards for your deck – they’re the same ones all the other Black decks also run!
Adding the Personal (Death)Touch
On the other hand, to me Commander is a format about expression. Of the 20+ decks I currently have built in paper, no two play alike, and few even play the same cards! One of the coolest parts of having access to the Command Zone is that you’re able to fill up your deck with oddball cards that play off the specific characteristics of your general. So before I go to the tried-and-true, I like to look around a bit to see whether there’s a less common (and often less expensive!) but equally worthwhile option for that deck.
Some players just like to flash around the power though, and this first build of Yawgmoth is for them! It’s often easier to conceive of linear decks than interactive ones, so a straight-up combo build like this is a great starting point for understanding what Dr. Moth can do. Once you’ve played a few games I can easily see this list evolving into a more balanced one with extra interaction and fun black cards. For now though, almost every non-land slot in the 99 is dedicated towards unlocking Yawgmoth’s combo potential. And boy, is our Thran Physician potent!
An Undying Threat
With the power of the internet hivemind at your fingertips it isn’t too hard to find lists of the most common and effective infinite combos in Commander. But Yawgmoth himself brings a unique interaction when played alongside creatures with the Undying keyword.
Yawgmoth already loves creatures that come back for another round after their death, since they give twice the activations for his powerful free card-draw/removal sacrifice ability. But because the -1/-1 counter from the sacrifice ability removes the +1/+1 counter from an Undying creature that’s revived, having a pair of Undying creatures out alongside Yawgmoth means as many activations and cards as you want!
Just sac one, have it come back, then sac the other targeting the first with Yawg’s ability. It’s even worth playing some of the less competitive Undying bodies – the ones with negative ETB effects can always be sacrificed away for the loop before their triggers resolve anyway.
A Degree in Fine Arts
Note that I didn’t say “infinite activations” there, for Yawg-daddy’s designers put in a sobering “Pay 1 life” clause on the sac ability, just to make our lives a little harder. Luckily, the good doctor has an appreciation for the bloody arts, so as long as our first 30-something draws find one of these Aristocrats all-stars we don’t just get to keep drawing our deck – we are licensed to kill.
The 3 R’s – Resiliency, Redundancy, Recursion!
This is probably a Commander deck for a more competitive table, and such a table will have a keen eye for any innocent-looking Blood Artist sitting around waiting for your untap step. You have to expect your combo pieces to be removed, and while we can always re-cast Yawg Dawg when we need him, we need to give ourselves ways to set our combo back up.
First off, we’re playing almost every Undying creature and Blood Artist effect we can in mono-Black so we draw them early and often. We could go deeper into playing outright bad cards like Vengeful Vampire, but I’d rather harness one of Black’s strengths and run all of Magic’s best tutors to search up the vital cards!
I usually try to limit the number of tutors, especially cheap nonspecific ones, that I play in a given deck. Having each game play out a different way based on the variance of 99 one-offs is a foundational appeal of Commander, and I’d encourage even players who normally demand peak consistency from their decks to try playing with second rate effects over superpowered tutors.
But we’re already committed to going off here, so let’s just jam ‘em! You could probably go even further if you have the collection, with options like Grim Tutor, Cruel Tutor, Buried Alive and Mausoleum Secrets still on the table.
More effective than trying to outlast every other player’s spot removal is the plan to go from 0-100 in one spell, most easily by reanimating 2 or more combo creatures at once! Not only are effects like Grimoire of the Dead, Wake the Dead and Balthor the Defiled easy ways to snap off a win from nowhere, they open up more options for our deckbuilding and general play.
Playing mass reanimation effects lets us more freely discard stuff to the Y-Man’s second activated ability, knowing we can always get our key creatures back. The same is true for any removal which targets Yawgmoth; it’s okay to let the Thran With A Plan go to the graveyard and save ourselves an expensive re-cast if we were already priming a Living Death for next turn. Lastly, it turns on the always-busted Dredge cards as our prime option to tear through our deck quickly, loading up our ‘yard for the one card kill later on.
Being mono black restricts which Dredge cards we’re allowed, but Yawgmoth plays very well with them due to his at-will discard AND draw abilities. Tutor up a Dredger, discard it to Proliferate (yum!), then sac something to immediately Dredge it back! Repeat until the “value” portion of your brain is sated. Even Golgari Thug’s sometimes-awkward death trigger is more manageable when your general can immediately draw and use the card (the same applies for the “put it on top” tutors like Imperial Seal).
While our main combo plan of 2 Undying creatures + Yawgmoth + Blood Artist is very good, it’s almost impossible to put a pile of 99 cards next to such a flexible and powerful general without accidentally enabling a few more routes to victory. Much of the mastery inherent in Commander decks of this sort lies in identifying the many possible ways to combo or half-combo and swing your resources towards the one that’s best in the moment.
First mention must go to “how is this not banned” hall-of-famer Mikaeus, who is even more busted than usual here due to the Undying interaction our deck is built around. Mikaeus and Yawgmoth are old mates from their days at the “Clerics Against Humanity” club and if you have both on the board at the same time you should absolutely be ready to end the game.
In addition to simply drawing all the cards and draining all the life, Crystalline Crawler or Blood Vassal on this board means infinite Black mana, Pawn of Ulamog or Sifter of Skulls means infinite generic mana, and either of those 2 or this next enchantment mean infinite creatures.
A humbler card in almost every way, but like Bontu I have a soft spot for these beetly boys. This is almost a one-card engine with Yawgmoth, allowing free activations of the good doctor so long as you have targets for the -1/-1 counters. Not included here is its natural partner, Blowfly Infestation, which also generates infinite creature creation/death triggers.
Putting the “life” Back Into Proliferate
The Yawgmonster’s ability to Proliferate costs 2 Black mana, so we’re not as focused on abusing it as I expect some people to be. Even if we’re not committed to that route, including a few self-contained Proliferate synergies gives us alternative routes to winning – especially helpful if someone exiles our graveyard. Ichor Rats can also be looped with Mikaeus for “free” Infect kills. We also have Proliferate synergies in our mana rocks, our recursion (Grimoire of the Dead) and our land base.
Just remember the Rats say “each player”, so stop recurring them when everyone’s at 9 poison and Proliferate with Yawg to kill the table but not yourself. Our other ways to start the poison Proliferation train include Inkmoth Nexus, Plague Myr, and Virulent Wound.
Jolly Roger and Davvol the Birthday Boy fill a similar role for our deck – they add grease to the main engine, extending our combo turns with additional Black mana until we can go infinite! The fact that Carnival adds a second repeated life tax on top of Yawgmoth activations is a bit sad, but starting with 40 means we can still afford a lot of pings. Also be aware it triggers for your opponents’ creatures, for better or worse.
These cards help build up the value engine from the extra-sac-fodder side of things. Genesis Chamber working for all players actually helps us most of the time, providing necessary targets for Yawgmoths -1/-1 counter experiments. Bridge from Below is one of our premier Entomb targets if you know no opponent has a way to kill their own creatures, generating a lethal horde of Zombies from us just doing our thing.
No coincidence that an altar to Yawgmoth himself would end up being great in (t)his deck! While we obviously can’t sac the same creatures to this and to Big Yawg simultaneously, the Altar is a very nice tool to bridge the Black mana gap that you find with some lines. It also plays well with Reassembling Skeleton and Gravecrawler! If you’re a fan of this interaction, you can always make room for lookalikes Bloodsoaked Champion and Scrapheap Scrounger.
The Bit with the Rest of the Cards
These two are worth singling out for two powerful reasons. First, Emperor Yawgustus allows us to make use of these “put on top” recursion effects the same turn instead of waiting til the next draw step. Second, our most powerful combo creatures – including Mikaeus, Balthor and Geralf’s Messenger – are Zombies.
Unlike the ever-busted It That Betrays, the wording on Necroskitter does allow your opponents to send their generals back to the Command Zone instead of to you (boo!), but everything else is fair game.
These enchantments are also one-card blowouts for some decks and can often prompt concessions. Butcher of Malakir offers a second “Grave Pact” effect which can also, devastatingly, be pulled back to life by our reanimation spells. I begrudgingly cut Grave Pact itself as the worst version of the effect, but you’d definitely not be wrong to put it back in.Contamination is Black’s Blood Moon, except more oppressive, hitting even basic lands. It’s also much less well known, meaning it can have tremendous “ambush” value against non-Black decks. However, it might be worth giving up the element of surprise in order to ask how your playgroup feels about this card – for many, such powerful mana denial goes against the fun-loving spirit of Commander.
It looks like the enabler of the two, but make no mistake – Gate to the Afterlife is the main course here, and Nicky B’s Gift is the gravy. The Gate helps the Founder of Phyrexia dig through our deck for combo fodder, offsetting the life loss of activating him along the way. Whether by sacrifice, Dredge or discard, it’s very easy to meet the six-creature requirement and tutor out the Gift itself. You can also safely discard the Gift to Yawgmoth should you draw it, since Gate’s ability can bring it back and it’s rarely worth casting for 7.
This spicy new tech from Modern Horizons is our nod to creature combo decks which may be too fast for Yawg to outrace or even disrupt on his own. The whole idea of discarding/exiling from hand to pay for spells synergizes very nicely with our prodigious ability to fill our hand, and is probably worth exploring through cards like Unmask and Soul Spike.
Another viable class of cards we’re only dipping a toe into here is Black’s Rituals. Trading cards for one-shot mana is a time-honored tradition for combo decks, and playing the suite of Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual and friends can help us get our engine on board sooner or help us cast things immediately once we draw our deck. The latter use is what we’re thinking of here – in that scenario Songs is the most explosive ritual available.Blood Vassal and Priest of Gix don’t generate extra mana when cast, but they refill our pool after we empty it for mass reanimation spells! Going off all in one turn is very important at the Commander table, and these ensure you can follow up right away.
Creatures We Found Down the Couch
There’s not a lot of slots in our deck for “good stuff”, but it’s worth having a few big, impactful cards here to get extra value out of reanimation effects and for board presence. Patron gives us some light graveyard hate while helping out any incidental Vampires, of which we have a few.
The Demon is part of our reanimation package as well as a “soft” board wipe which won’t kill off our general. Remember you can generate Energy counters with Proliferate.
Endrek is just Black’s single most efficient generator of sacrifice fodder. Be sure to sacrifice the right amount of Thrulls to stay below 7 BEFORE the next creation trigger resolves.
The End of Light and Hope
Well, that’s just about everything there is to say about this build! Any cards I haven’t specifically touched on are very common or generic Commander staples which we’re including because they’re nearly obligatory (hello Sol Ring!) but not doing anything exciting with. I hope this article has inspired you to have a go at building Yawgmoth, Thran Physician!
If you do have any suggestions for improving my build of Yawgmoth, or on any of the other Modern Horizons generals, come talk to me about it at @AWanderingBard on Twitter or twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard. For now though, I return to the lab, working on the next batch of juicy spoilers from Wizards. I hope you all enjoy successful and exciting Magic until then.