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 book. Mechanically, mono-black doesn’t mind getting a swarm of monsters—black is used to getting tokens at the cost of resources. 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. Luckily, black is also very good at getting a lot of mana through mana doublers and cards like Cabal Coffers and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
As far as mono-black zombies in Commander are concerned, however, Ghoulcaller Gisa is probably going to be our best bet. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is another powerful option, but we’ll be playing him too.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, in fact, 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.
Aside for players who like broken stuff: If you’re playing Mikaeus, the Unhallowed]/card] you also have the option to play [card]Triskelion solely as a combo piece. As long as you use Triskelion to kill itself while it has undying and remove all of its counters, you can do infinite damage with Triskelion’s ability to remove a +1/+1 counter to deal 1 damage to target creature or player. I’m personally not playing it, but it’s an option.
We’re looking to make our little zombie tokens as strong as possible, so 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. Not just that, but for 2B, tap, and exile a creature from a graveyard, we can make a 2/2 black zombie creature token. It lets you hate a little on reanimation decks while fueling your zombie army.
Death Baron is one of the more expensive zombie lords, sitting around $12. But it’s solid. At 1BB for a 2/2, it doesn’t differ too much from Cemetery Reaper. He gives both zombies and skeletons +1/+1 (he’s the only skeleton lord in the game, by the way). But he also gives each of those creatures deathtouch, which is fantastic due to the smaller size of our zombie companions.
Lord of the Undead is one of the strongest zombie lords by far, and is also pretty pricey at around $9. 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 are 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. Not great. 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. Making all zombies cost one less to cast can lead to explosive turns after this hits the board.
Lastly, Zombie Master is the first zombie lord printed. He’s a 2/3 for 1BB. Instead of giving a power boost, he gives all zombies swampwalk and regenerate. 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 [card]Gauntlet of Power[/card] also give all creatures of the chosen color +1/+1. As all of our zombies are black, this easily gives us even more power for 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 at only three mana. 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 tw 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 total number of zombie tokens you have.
Gravecrawler is also a heavy combo card. It 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, a card like Blood Artist turns into a win condition.
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 they 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 its 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.
Now, what else does black like doing? Well, encouraging us to play more black!
These two are additional mana doublers in the forms 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 is very helpful. 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 can produce huge amounts of mana. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx 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.
Ghoulcaller Gisa Commander Brew
Until next time,
– David Rowell