Ghoulcaller Gisa is definitely the better of the two zombie masters.
To recap what she does:
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard
B, tap, Sacrifice another creature: Put X 2/2 black Zombie creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X is the sacrificed creature’s power.
I’m also a fan of her flavor text; it’s actually a quote straight from the Uncharted Realms talking about her and her brother.
“Geralf, must you always whine? I agreed to nothing. I’ll raise ghouls anytime I wish.”
It’s pretty obvious that she wants to be surrounded by a horde of zombies – the flavor of throwing a monster to the zombies to call forth more zombies is pretty solid in my books. Mechanically, mono-black doesn’t mind getting a swarm of monsters – black is used to getting tokens at the cost of lives. The only real downside to her ability is having to tap along with having a mana cost. She’s also rather high on the curve at 3BB – meaning she’ll get expensive fast if she gets killed a lot.
As far as mono-black zombies in Commander are concerned, however, Ghoulcaller Gisa is probably going to be our best bet when she comes out. Geth, Lord of the Vault and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed are probably our best bets aside from her – but we’ll be playing them too.
Geth, Lord of the Vault is a solid zombie. A 5/5 Legendary Zombie with intimidate for 4BB is pretty decent, and his ability is pretty solid.
XB: Put target artifact or creature card with converted mana cost X from an opponent’s graveyard onto the battlefield under your control tapped. Then that player puts the top X cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.
As Gisa won’t always be in play, we’ll need a way to get cool cards into play. By hitting an opponent to grab something small, we get to start filling up their graveyard for other shenanigans that we’ll be doing soon.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is the first lord our deck gets to see – it gives all of our non-humans (so not our Commander, but everything else) +1/+1 and undying. While undying doesn’t effect our zombie tokens, it gives the majority of our creatures another layer of protection.
Before that, we need to make our little zombie tokens as strong as possible – and why not play all of the zombie lords?
Cemetery Reaper is a 2/2 Zombie lord for 1BB that gives our other zombies +1/+1; but he’s cool and has another ability, too. For 2B, tap, and exile a creature from a graveyard, we can make a 2/2 black zombie creature token. Geth, Lord of the Vault, while he wants to be able to pull stuff out of the graveyard, can help fill the graveyard in order to make creatures for Cemetery Reaper to animate. But that’s only the beginning of the lords.
Death Baron is one of the more expensive zombie lords, sitting around 12 dollars. But he’s solid. At 1BB for a 2/2, he doesn’t differ too much from Cemetery Reaper. He gives both Zombies and Skeletons +1/+1, which also makes him the only skeleton lords in the game, too. But he also gives each of those creatures deathtouch, which is fantastic due to the smaller size of his zombie companions.
Lord of the Undead is one of the strongest zombie lords by far – and is also pretty pricey around 9 dollars. Yet again a 2/2 for 1BB that gives other zombies +1/+1, he also has a pretty cool ability. For 1B tap, you can return a zombie card from your graveyard to your hand. Sadly there’s no zombie tribal spells, so he’s only going to be grabbing creatures back – or changeling cards, but they’re not prominent in black.
Undead Warchief is probably the coolest of the lords. For 2BB, we get a 1/1. Pretty lame for 4 mana. But he also makes your zombie spells cost 1 less to cast, which is pretty cool. The only real downside is that our Commander is a Human Wizard rather than a zombie. He also gives all of our zombies, himself included, +2/+1, which is pretty solid. That at least brings him up to a 3/2 for 2BB, which is much more reasonable.
Lastly, Zombie Master is the first zombie lord – at 1BB for a 2/3 rather than a 2/2. Instead of giving a power boost, he gives all zombies swampwalk and Regenerate for B. The only real downside with this is that it works for all zombies, not just yours. If you’re facing something like Thraximundar, you should probably avoid casting your Zombie Master. Filth, on the other hand, gives just your creatures swampwalk. We’ll explain later why this swampwalk is important, but it’s also nice to have a horde of unblockable zombies.
In addition to the lords, we’ve got a few more things that give us boosts.
In addition to being mana doublers, Caged Sun and Gauntlet of Power also give all creatures of the chosen color +1/+1. As all of our zombies are black, this easily gives us even more power on our zombies.
Obelisk of Urd on the other hand takes advantage of having a lot of tokens by having convoke and giving the chosen creature type +2/+2 – easily making our zombies twice their original size. Hall of Triumph is for all of your black creatures and is pretty solid too at only a 3 drop. Coat of Arms is the classic tribal support card, but it’s a risky play against other tribal decks.
Between all of these lords and buffs, the 2/2 zombie tokens that Gisa makes get much larger- but how are we going to get those tokens when we have to sacrifice creatures?
Well, Gravecrawler is probably the best possible option.
As a constantly recastable 2/1 zombie, he’s perfect for Gisa’s goals. You can play him for B, sacrifice him for another B to get 2 or more 2/2 zombies to replace him, and then you can just replay him for another B. But the fantastic thing is that our zombie lords significantly increase the number of creatures we get, as it changes how big our sacrificed zombie is. The rest of the time, however, it’s generally fine to sacrifice other zombie tokens to increase the general number of zombie tokens you have.
But what else makes tokens?
Army of the Damned and Endless Ranks of the Dead were both really cool zombie token cards from Innistrad block that never saw standard play – but I think have a place here. Army of the Damned already sees play due to 5BBB not being as hard to hit in Commander, and being a win condition on it’s own. Endless Ranks of the Dead is less played due to not doing anything the turn it comes into play – but here it can do a little bit more due to how slow the format is and how many zombies you’ll have on board. Grave Titan is a cool dude, though – even though he isn’t a zombie himself, he brings 2 2/2s with him, and every time he swings he makes two more.
Tombstone Stairwell is one of the few “Enchant World” cards in the game, and it’s fairly playable. At 2BB, during each upkeep, each player gets a 2/2 “Tombspawn” black zombie token with haste for each creature in their graveyard. However, it has a cumulative upkeep of 1B.
As a reminder of cumulative upkeep:
At the beginning of your upkeep, put an age counter on this permanent, then sacrifice it unless you pay its upkeep cost for each age counter on it.
Now, whenever Tombstone Stairwell is destroyed or the turn ends, all the tokens are destroyed and cannot be regenerated. The only real downside is that everyone gets these tokens – but you’re likely going to have a larger graveyard than most of the other players, and your zombies are going to be larger than theirs. One fun trick is that you can also keep the zombies if they’re indestructible – though black doesn’t have much to do so with.
Now, what else does black like doing? Well, encouraging us to play more black!
These two are additional mana doublers in the form of creatures. Crypt Ghast gives us a pretty relevant Extort trigger, too – when we’re recasting Gravecrawler a ton of times, being able to drain people out and keep your life total up. Nirkana Revenant does the same thing as Crypt Ghast, but also has the ability to pump itself +1/+1 per black you pay into it. With Filth in the graveyard and a swamp under an opponent’s control, you can completely blow a player out of the game.
Extraplanar Lens is another mana doubler, but it does come at the cost of exiling one of your basic lands to imprint onto it. I wouldn’t say this is an auto-include, but it’s a strong option for this deck.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Cabal Coffers are the two big mana producers of this deck. Each of them have you tap 2 mana into them to get a larger amount of mana out. Nykthos pulls a ton of mana equal to your devotion to black (in the case of this deck at least), while Cabal Coffers gives you mana equal to the number of swamps you control.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth serves a few purposes here. One, it allows Cabal Coffers to tap for black equal to the lands you control rather than just the swamps. Two, it makes all of your opponent’s lands swamps – so you can hit any player with swampwalk – at least, as long as they control at least one land.
Phyrexian Altar is one of the biggest combo cards in all of Commander. There’s very few things that don’t combo with this card. The main thing for this deck is this and Gravecrawler.
As Gravecrawler only costs B and can be sacrificed to Phyrexian Altar for B, meaning you can sacrifice it to recast itself as long as you control another zombie, giving you an infinite sacrifice outlet. Meaning, cards like Blood Artist turn into win conditions.
Those and a few other cards create the skeleton list we see below:
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Geth, Lord of the Vault
Lord of the Undead
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Liliana of Dark Realms
Army of the Damned
Victim of Night
Dictate of Erebos
Endless Ranks of the Dead
Coat of Arms
Gauntlet of Power
Hall of Triumph
Obelisk of Urd
Whip of Erebos
Cavern of Souls
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
What do you guys anticipate seeing with Gisa? And of course, if I forgot anything, feel free to mention it! I’m always open to ideas.
Until next time,