Hey everyone! If you’re like me, you’re in your pajamas today, looking over a peaceful snowscape and counting your blessings for having a home. That’s the status of Brooklyn, at least, as this historic blizzard is supposed to hit us hard this time around. Of course, it might not… I am writing this last night, after all. Either way, though, I have a much-needed day off from work and a much-appreciated burrow to while it away in.


This week I want to talk about a series of conversations I had with my friend Micah concerning Alesha, Who Smiles At Death. She’s quite an interesting Commander, lacking some of the raw power of Tasigur, Golden Fang, but balancing it out with an ability that actually affects the board. And, so long as you can keep Alesha alive, she really does affect the board.


This guy!

The conversation started when Micah noticed that there’s a pretty cool interaction betweel Alesha and Netherborn Phalanx. Netherborn Phalanx is a 2/4 that transmutes to search up six-drops, which is pretty cool in and of itself; add in it’s nasty ETB effect, which domes your opponents for a bunch, and it seemed like a card worth considering. Then, the question became how else to take advantage of her power restriction.


I always like backups in my decks, so when Micah pointed out that Crypt Champion was also a working reanimation target, which got me thinking. Many of the cards Alesha is going to bring back are CMC three or less, and Alesha herself meets that criteria. While I don’t think she’s going to fully be in the graveyard as often as Tymaret, the Murder King, who probably earns a spot in this build, I do dream of a deck where the default is not to return to the Command Zone when vanquished. So, by leaning into this theme a bit more, it seemed like I’d be able to play that particular way.

I picture this dude saying, “ho ho ho” at some point in his life.


Some of the cards were obvious. Sun Titan was always going to be in this deck, but how many people even remember Order of Whiteclay? It’s got the untap symbol on it (which is due for a comeback, hopefully while inspired is still in Standard), and it’s a 1/4, which is conveniently returnable by Alesha. And it recurs Alesha! I enjoy loops like that, especially when they’re not so strong as to immediately end the game. Like, the interaction between Reveillark and Karmic Guide is awesome, but who actually gets to play that out without instantly milling out all opponents or something equally gross?


All I’m saying is what’s the point of having food if you can’t play with it? Nothing! But if your food a) knows you consider them food, or b) realizes you’re playing with them, sometimes your food doesn’t appreciate this. Which means less food.


In this metaphor, my friends are food. It works because they do provide sustenance, but I don’t eat them as a matter of principle.


Anyway! Here are some cards I’m considering for the graveyard interaction theme:


Order of Whiteclay CMC 3 or less reanimator
Sun Titan CMC 3 or less reanimator
Crypt Champion CMC 3 or less reanimator
Unearth Reanimator FOR CMC < 4
Immortal Servitude Mass CMC-based reanimator
Reveillark Reanimator FOR power < 3
Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker Reanimator FOR power < 2
Return to the Ranks Mass power-based reanimator
Wake the Dead Mass reanimation
Dread Return Reanimation spell w/ flashback
Unburial Rites Reanimation spell w/ flashback
Torrent of Souls Reanimation spell w/ combat bonus
Whip of Erebos Reanimator w/ combat bonus
Flayer of the Hatebound Gives combat bonus for reanimation
Apprentice Necromancer Reanimator w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Coffin Queen Reanimator w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Doomed Necromancer Reanimator w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Feldon of the Third Path Reanimator w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Goblin Welder Reanimator w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden Reanimator w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Hell’s Caretaker Reanimator w/ power < 3
Karmic Guide Reanimator w/ power < 3
Auramancer Gravedigger w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Treasure Hunter Gravedigger w/ power < 3 and CMC < 4
Anarchist Gravedigger w/ power less than 3
Entomber Exarch Gravedigger w/ power less than 3
Gravedigger Gravedigger w/ power less than 3
Hallowed Spiritkeeper Graveyard matters w/ CMC < 4
Corpse Connoisseur Graveyard enabler w/ unearth


Of course, at some point in this process I’m going to have to cut Reveillark or Karmic Guide from this deck. I just don’t even like accidentally triggering that type of combo. I’ll probably cut Reveillark, since Alesha, Who Smiles at Death can recur Karmic Guide, but that’s not a decision I need to make at this point. In the meantime, this is a nice mix of creatures that either fulfill or grant one of the reanimation conditions, and cards that synergize well with the graveyard.


What a pleasant looking pillar.

Now that we’ve gotten the back up generators online, it’s time to fill out the deck with different packages. Reanimation is an enabler strategy, and it must be fed with something else to do. For example, we could turn from here and make a fairly interesting Hivestone deck. Here’s the list of cards I’d be looking at if I put that package in:


Ghostflame Sliver Anti-Protection
Blade Sliver Combat boost
Bonescythe Sliver Combat boost
Bonesplitter Sliver Combat boost
Leeching Sliver Combat boost
Sidewinder Sliver Combat boost
Sinew Sliver Combat boost
Striking Sliver Combat boost
Syphon Sliver Combat boost
Watcher Sliver Combat boost
Belligerent Sliver Evasion
Two-Headed Sliver Evasion
Blur Sliver Haste
Heart Sliver Haste
Basal Sliver Mana
Ward Sliver Protection
Hunter Sliver Provoke
Clot Sliver Regeneration
Crypt Sliver Regeneration
Sedge Sliver Regeneration
Acidic Sliver Removal
Cautery Sliver Removal
Constricting Sliver Removal
Necrotic Sliver Removal
Quilled Sliver Removal
Thorncaster Sliver Removal
Homing Sliver Tutor
Sentinel Sliver Vigilance


What I like about this build is that the wide variety of combat abilities give Alesha a significantly greater chance of surviving combat, which is important if you want to be using her every turn. Like, provoke is awesome with a first striking commander! She becomes a mini-Abyss. Of course, the rest of the slots would probably be taken up with ways to find and access Hivestone, but a combat-heavy deck like this might be able to just have “sliver beatdown” as its Plan B. Still, I tend to dislike Hivestone decks. It’s just so hard to get the balance right, outside Reaper King changeling decks.*


I played this card in Standard! Also with Stoneforge Mystic! Crazy world.

I think, though, that I’d like to look at other ways to keep Alesha alive. The slivers deck seems fun, but it also seems like a different deck. What popped into my head initially was Basilisk Collar. How do you get your first strikers to survive combat? Give them deathtouch! But, as you’ll notice, that brings Stoneforge Mystic into the mix.


Thus, Stoneforge Mystic probably earns a slot for her package. Not a huge one, since these cards aren’t directly recurrable, but there’s room for a couple of good ones. It’s probably okay to start with Puresteel Paladin, although maybe not… the effect is really good, and once Stoneforge is online you should rack up the equipment quickly. As to that equipment, Basilisk Collar gets a spot, but so should Hexproof Boots. This might even be a Whispersilk Cloak deck. Bonehoard seems like a solid choice, as does Darksteel Plate. For the final card in the package, let’s bring in Sunforger. And Sunforger comes with its own package, with a bunch of support cards like Wear and Tear, Utter End, Mardu Charm, Boros Charm, and Rakdos Charm. Again, these cards dilute the central theme, so we should probably keep this total package down to ten or fifteen cards.


It’s sweet on Alesha, since it makes her able to kill 7 toughness worth of stuff during first strike damage, and then she throws it and gets something to kill anything else that looks threatening.

Now there’s a fork in the road. We can either overload on creatures for the rest of the slots, making the deck work primarily through the power of numbers, or we can add in some more support structure, giving you more ways to dig for the fewer creatures. The former deck is more likely to play like tempo beatdown, while the latter one is a more midrange deck (you could probably even turn it into a control deck). For now, let’s do the midrange, since it gives us more to do. And the first thing to do is add in a bunch of draw engines.


This card does fit really well in this deck though.

I don’t play a ton of Mardu, and one of the reasons is that I never feel like I have enough card draw. It’s ridiculous, because I should have more card draw than I do in my monoblack decks (which aren’t exactly hurting for ways to draw cards), but the draw engines never really feel on theme. With Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, you can work this out a couple of ways. Slate of Ancestry is a good card for this deck: you should have a bunch of creatures in play, and discarding a creature card from your hand can be a big mana discount. Altar of Dementia doesn’t look like a draw engine, but the option to mill yourself for more fodder, tied with a sac outlet to let you get Alesha triggers off cards you’ve otherwise stranded on the battlefield, and it seems like a decent way of keeping you in things to do.


But it breaks down from there. Since Fate Reforged just came out, you can probably add in Outpost Siege and Palace Siege, which are draw engines of sorts. Harvester of Souls would be good in here, and I could even see justification for running Phyrexian Arena and Underworld Connections (that justification is named Sun Titan). Given Alesha’s ability, it’s probably worth it to run Phyrexian Rager, which is otherwise a fairly mediocre card. But do you fully commit to it? Do you run Phyrexian Horror and Graveborn Muse, despite neither one being particularly on theme? Is it a Land Tax deck, a Promise of Power deck? Do you run Chandra, Pyromaster? I don’t know. My gut instinct is to draw the line with Phyrexian Horror, Graveborn Muse, and Land Tax in the deck, and the rest not, but that’s primarily because it’s easier to recur those cards if you get into self-mill. There’s no way to get back Chandra, Pyromaster, and I hate dead cards when I’m doing the self-mill thing.


The next question would be mana rocks. I’m against them! Well, I should be more precise. I’m against a lot of them in this deck. I’d run Sol Ring, because the deck could definitely use a jump-start from time to time, and probably Chromatic Lantern for that double hybrid cost, but I think that would be it. I’m running low on slots, and I still haven’t gotten to the meat of it. Plus, in general I’m not the biggest fan of artifact mana. I have a couple of decks that play it, but I’d usually rather run more land. That way, so long as I have draw I’ll hit all my land drops. It’s shocking how well that can ramp a deck.


Finally we get to the meat of the deck.


Flame-Kin Zealot Combat boost
Tormentor Exarch Combat boost
Stonehorn Dignitary Defense
Stuffy Doll Defense
Anathemancer Direct damage
Ghitu Slinger Direct damage
Gray Merchant of Asphodel Direct damage
Mardu Heart-Piercer Direct damage
Murderous Redcap Direct damage
Triskelion Direct damage
Hellhole Rats Discard
Liliana’s Specter Discard
Sin Collector Discard
Disciple of Bolas Draw
Mentor of the Meek Draw
Wall of Omens Draw
Mogis Marauder Evasion
Azorius Justicar Falter
Fervent Cathar Falter
Kor Hookmaster Falter
Agent of Erebos Graveyard hate
Imperial Recruiter HAHAHAHAHA
Custodi Soulbinders Huge
Ignition Team Huge
Sewer Nemesis Huge
Mindclaw Shaman Jujitsu
Netherborn Phalanx Jujitsu
Vulshok Battlemaster Jujitsu
Avalance Riders Land destruction
Conclave Phalanx Lifegain
Knight of the White Orchid Ramp
Kor Cartographer Ramp
Liliana’s Shade Ramp
Solemn Simulacrum Ramp
Aven Cloudchaser Removal
Banisher Priest Removal
Big Game Hunter Removal
Bone Shredder Removal
Duergar Hedge-Mage Removal
Duplicant Removal
Faceless Butcher Removal
Fiend Hunter Removal
Manic Vandal Removal
Nekrataal Removal
Balustrade Spy Self-mill


This is the problem with sketching out a deck. Eventually you get the first part complete, the part with all the creation and possibilities and whatnot… and it leaves you with a ton of cards and nothing to do but make cut after increasingly difficult cut. I find the major choice in that stage is between being a jack of all trades or letting there be things your deck just can’t do. I tend to err on the side of the area-specific gaps, personally. I’d probably cut Avalance Riders in the first round; I’m never big on land destruction, especially since you can throw it on a land and save yourself a maindeck slot.

This art is an actual guy! What a world.


Anyway, that’s it for this week’s Command of Etiquette. Tune in next week, when I go over the Fate Reforged cards I’ve already purchased, and in which decks did they find their homes!


Jess Stirba is as snug as a bug in a rug.


*Which is weird, because changelings are already slivers. Basically, the point is not that it makes your changeling scarecrows into slivers, but it takes all the other miscellaneous lords, and adds them to a relevant tribe. The problem of that deck, of course, is that there aren’t a ton of good changelings or scarecrows. You end up playing some serious chaff!

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