Does anyone else out there remember when every Magic set got a novel? I used to love that, I collected those little paperback bastards and would always have a dogeared copy of one of them in my backpack next to my books for English class. While Kamigawa block had some gameplay issues, its novels were stellar. I recently reread them and in doing so reacquainted myself with Toshiro Umezawa.
Last time I read through the Kamigawa trilogy, EDH was not a thing, now I had the ability to bring my favourite character from the books to life on the tabletop. This is how my Mono-Black KILL ALL THE THINGS deck was born.
Having played him for a while now, I have discovered that Toshiro is a very cool card and he possesses exceptional potential – but he comes with some serious pros and cons.
He Is Cheap – A mono-color Commander with CMC 3 is exceptionally easy to cast and re-cast. You can reliably count on Toshiro to be present for the majority of the time you’re playing the deck.
He Is Unassuming – Commander players take the phrase “fear the unknown” and turn it on its head. When you sit down for a game of Commander, the table is far more likely to attack the deck that has slaughtered them before than the deck they have never seen. There is almost no one out there that has seen a Toshiro Commander deck which is a massive advantage for you.
His Ability Is Powerful – Once you have figured out how to make Toshiro tick, he is an absolutely devastating Commander.
He Is Tricky To Master – Figuring out what makes Toshiro tick will take some time. I have been playing him consistently for 3.5 months, with solid success, and there are still micro-interactions in my deck that I don’t notice until it is too late.
Indestructible and Hexproof Ruin Your Day – You will have to play some niche answers to these keywords because an Avacyn or an Uril will shred your face if you’re just relying on Black “good stuff” to carry the day.
Toshiro is an odd duck because he is both linear and flexible.
In order for it to make sense to play him as your Commander, you have to have lots of Instants and you have to make sure that there are a lot of things dying on your opponents’ side of the board. A Commander with so many caveats to success definitely falls into the “linear” camp.
Toshi’s flexibility comes from his colour identity. Mono-Black loves playing Instants that also happen to kill things. There is a surprisingly deep card pool of viable options to choose from with Toshi and there are many viable lists that can be drawn from such a “linear” Commander.
The wide variety of options aside, here are some things most Toshi lists should play:
A Quick Disclaimer: Before you die-hard Elder Dragons out there tear apart some of my suggestions, I need you to breathe deeply and remember the lesson that Necropotence taught us all those years ago: It doesn’t matter what your life total is if you’ve already won the game.
- Black Market
- Cabal Ritual
- Crypt Ghast
- Dark Ritual
- Imp’s Mischief
- Lethal Vapors
- Liliana of the Veil
- Nirkana Revenant
- Null Profusion
- Silence the Believers
- Spoils of Evil
- Vampiric Tutor
- Withering Boon
Black Market, Crypt Ghast, and Nirkana Revenant are all-stars in most Black decks. Toshi can get a little mana-hungry, especially if your graveyard is very full and lots of things are dying, and having any combination of these three on the battlefield ensures that you will never be at a loss for options. Toshi decks tend towards being controlling, and the Extort from the Crypt Ghast can get some surprising mileage in longer games.
Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual, and Spoils of Evil also address the issue of mana, but do so in a very different way. Playing Toshiro is all about learning how to chain the spells from your hand and the spells in your graveyard together in order to properly manipulate the state of the board. While “ritual” effects are not always very good in Commander, they are excellent in a deck that can use them to establish a presence early in the game and then be guaranteed to use them later to maintain advantage.
Entomb and Vampiric Tutor are both instants and tutors, which is important to Toshiro. Toshiro is a deck that is very much about setting up your dominoes and then knocking them down just right. The ability to tutor twice with one card is instrumental in executing a victory with Toshi.
Silence the Believers is currently the best Black answer to Indestructible creatures. It sucks that Toshi won’t see them die, but sometimes Avacyn has just gotta go.
Vendetta is generally considered bad in Commander. In a format where mana is rarely a problem and creatures tend to be BIG, a removal spell that trades its casting cost for a penalty directly influenced by the size of its target seems bad. Trust me on this one though – after many games with Toshi, having a 1-mana removal spell is amazing.
Speaking of generally considered bad in Commander, Liliana of the Veil is right at home here. Her +1 has synergy with Toshiro’s graveyard manipulation, and her repeatable edict that costs no mana is insane in this deck. When anything dying lets you cast a potentially powerful spell from your graveyard, your opponent sacrificing a token to her ability seems a little less heartbreaking.
Withering Boon and Imp’s Mischief don’t seem very good. Both of them are worse versions of cards in other colours, but this doesn’t mean you can write them off. Both of these cards allow Toshi, and Mono-Black in general, to catch opponents off-guard. It’s amazing to witness how powerful people’s assumptions are, even if you have these lying in your graveyard, plain to see, people will still be surprised when the Black deck counters their Sigarda after casting Doom Blade on their Wurm token.
At its very worst, Lethal Vapors reads “target player loses a turn”; at its best, no one is quite sure how to react to this card and you get to harvest substantial advantage from it. If you have cast a lot of utility instants in the first few turns, this card will let you maximize their impact and set you up for the mid-game. If the momentum of others players has been out of your ability to control, this card will let you curtail that momentum for a bit so that you can stabilize.
I have saved the very best for last: Null Profusion. If there is one thing that this deck is going to be doing a lot of, it is casting spells. Null Profusion is the perfect card advantage engine for this deck, because while you’re going to be getting more than one use out of most of your spells, you’re still going to be burning through them. Null Profusion ensures you never run out of fuel for your Mono-Black Murder Fire.
The cards listed above are things that I would recommend for anyone thinking of building a deck around Toshiro Umezawa. To fill in the rest of the deck, I would suggest the following categories of cards:
- Creatures that kill things when they enter the battlefield (eg. Shriekmaw)
- Things that let you pilfer from opponents’ graveyards (eg. Fated Return)
- Things that let you profit when lots of creatures are dying (eg. Blood Artist)
- Answers to Hexproof and Indestructible
Lastly, you should settle on a consistent way to win the game. My Toshiro deck is what I would call Attrition-Combo: I chip away at the life total in the early game using opportunistic attacks and creatures taken from the graveyards of my enemies, I then close out the game with repeated castings of Tendrils of Agony thanks to Yawgmoth’s Will or a powerful creature buffed with Hatred and Tainted Strike.
I have seen Toshi builds that hew much closer to traditional Mono-Black control and I have seen hyper-aggressive Toshi strategies that try and clear a path to the red zone as quickly as possible. There are a lot of ways to play Mr. Umezawa and the best approach is to play and tweak until you find something that works for you.
Good Luck and Happy Building!
PS: Toshiro makes a cool addition to the 99 if you’re playing a graveyard-centric Black deck. Since I started using him as a commander, he has popped up in my playgroup outside of the command zone. Jarad Dredge, Marchesa Board Wipes.dec, and Skeleton Ship Control have all made use of Toshi. If you’re planning on having a full graveyard, you are going get your money’s worth out of a three-mana permanent that does a good impression of Yawgmoth’s Will.