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!

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician from Modern Horizons

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician from Modern Horizons

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??

Kazuul Warlord

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 GodsPriest 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

Commander (1)
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Spells (62)
Astral Cornucopia
Balthor the Defiled
Black Sun’s Zenith
Blood Artist
Blood Vassal
Bridge from Below
Butcher Ghoul
Butcher of Malakir
Carnival of Souls
Contamination
Crumbling Ashes
Crystalline Crawler
Demon of Dark Schemes
Demonic Tutor
Demonlord of Ashmouth
Diabolic Intent
Dictate of Erebos
Dread Return
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Entomb
Evernight Shade
Expedition Map
Falkenrath Noble
Force of Despair
Gate to the Afterlife
Genesis Chamber
Geralf’s Messenger
God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Golgari Thug
Gravecrawler
Grimoire of the Dead
Ichor Rats
Ill-Gotten Gains
Imperial Seal
Insidious Dreams
Jet Medallion
Leaden Myr
Lightning Greaves
Living Death
Magistrate’s Scepter
Mana Crypt
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Necroskitter
Nest of Scarabs
Patron of the Vein
Pawn of Ulamog
Phyrexian Altar
Pitiless Plunderer
Plague Myr
Priest of Gix
Reassembling Skeleton
Sifter of Skulls
Skirge Familiar
Sol Ring
Songs of the Damned
Stinkweed Imp
Treacherous Pit-Dweller
Vampiric Tutor
Victimize
Virulent Wound
Wake the Dead
Zulaport Cutthroat
Lands (37)
Blast Zone
Buried Ruin
Cabal Coffers
Cavern of Souls
Command Beacon
Crypt of Agadeem
Deserted Temple
Inkmoth Nexus
Lake of the Dead
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Peat Bog
Petrified Field
Phyrexian Tower
Subterranean Hangar
20 Swamp
Unholy Grotto
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Volrath’s Stronghold

BUY DECK

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!

Black Sun’s Zenith

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.

Demonic Tutor
Dread Return

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.

Butcher Ghoul
Geralf’s Messenger

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.

Blood Artist
Zulaport Cutthroat

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 ArtistBlood 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 ArtistBlood 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 VampireVengeful 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!

Diabolic Intent
Imperial Seal

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 TutorGrim Tutor, Cruel TutorCruel Tutor, Buried AliveBuried Alive and Mausoleum SecretsMausoleum Secrets still on the table.

Balthor the Defiled
Wake the Dead

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 DeadGrimoire of the Dead, Wake the Dead Wake the Dead and Balthor the DefiledBalthor 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 DeathLiving 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.

Stinkweed Imp
Golgari Thug

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 ThugGolgari 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 SealImperial Seal).

Alternative Medicine

While our main combo plan of 2 Undying creatures + Yawgmoth + Blood ArtistBlood 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.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

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 CrawlerCrystalline Crawler or Blood VassalBlood Vassal on this board means infinite Black mana, Pawn of UlamogPawn of Ulamog or Sifter of SkullsSifter of Skulls means infinite generic mana, and either of those 2 or this next enchantment mean infinite creatures.

Nest of Scarabs

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 InfestationBlowfly Infestation, which also generates infinite creature creation/death triggers.

Putting the “life” Back Into Proliferate

Magistrate’s Scepter
Ichor Rats

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 RatsIchor 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 DeadGrimoire 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 NexusInkmoth Nexus, Plague MyrPlague Myr, and Virulent WoundVirulent Wound.

Pitiless Plunderer
Carnival of Souls

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.

On the subject of engine grease, it’s worth mentioning Sifter of SkullsSifter of Skulls and Pawn of UlamogPawn of Ulamog for generating both mana and sacrifice fodder. There’s also Skirge FamiliarSkirge Familiar, which may be even more busted!

Bridge from Below
Genesis Chamber

These cards help build up the value engine from the extra-sac-fodder side of things. Genesis ChamberGenesis Chamber working for all players actually helps us most of the time, providing necessary targets for Yawgmoths -1/-1 counter experiments. Bridge from BelowBridge from Below is one of our premier EntombEntomb 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.

Phyrexian Altar
Reassembling Skeleton

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 SkeletonReassembling Skeleton and GravecrawlerGravecrawler! If you’re a fan of this interaction, you can always make room for lookalikes Bloodsoaked ChampionBloodsoaked Champion and Scrapheap ScroungerScrapheap Scrounger.

The Bit with the Rest of the Cards

Cabal Coffers
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Every Black Commander list loves the Cabal CoffersCabal Coffers/Urborg, Tomb of YawgmothUrborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth package, and since we’re building around the Tomb’s namesake, it’s also a flavor win!

Volrath’s Stronghold
Unholy Grotto

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 MessengerGeralf’s Messenger – are Zombies.

Necroskitter

Unlike the ever-busted It That BetraysIt That Betrays, the wording on NecroskitterNecroskitter does allow your opponents to send their generals back to the Command Zone instead of to you (boo!), but everything else is fair game.

Dictate of Erebos
Crumbling Ashes

These enchantments are also one-card blowouts for some decks and can often prompt concessions. Butcher of MalakirButcher of Malakir offers a second “Grave PactGrave Pact” effect which can also, devastatingly, be pulled back to life by our reanimation spells. I begrudgingly cut Grave PactGrave Pact itself as the worst version of the effect, but you’d definitely not be wrong to put it back in.

Contamination
ContaminationContamination is Black’s Blood MoonBlood 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.

Gate to the Afterlife
God-Pharaoh’s Gift

It looks like the enabler of the two, but make no mistake – Gate to the AfterlifeGate 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.

Force of Despair

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 UnmaskUnmask and Soul SpikeSoul Spike.

Songs of the Damned

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 RitualDark Ritual, Cabal RitualCabal 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 VassalBlood Vassal and Priest of GixPriest 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

Patron of the Vein
Demon of Dark Schemes
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder

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

Yawgmoth’s Edict

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 RingSol Ring!) but not doing anything exciting with. I hope this article has inspired you to have a go at building Yawgmoth, Thran PhysicianYawgmoth, 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.