This is how I chose to build one of the most infamous commanders in existence Meren. There are many ways to build a graveyard based commander deck however, in my opinion this deck is as Golgari as they come. If whoever is reading this is interested in building a deck focused on accruing value from the grave then this is the deck tech for you. This deck goes deep into what green and black do best and routinely brings our hopes of winning back from the grave. I broke the deck down into several sections each of which designed to work like clockwork, I will spotlight cards that have done a particular amount of work in each section.
In order for the deck to function at all we need creatures or artifacts that allow us to sacrifice our creatures as we collect experience counters from Meren seeing our creatures die. Meren serves to yank our undead servants back from the deep sleep to serve us again. However, while she will serve that purpose beautifully, our reanimation engine does not need to be her; we merely require a way to get our creatures back consistently. Do not misunderstand, Meren is fantastic at reanimating our key pieces however, she carries a rather infamous reputation due to her popularity and the value she generates. Thus, she is a big removal target. In order to decrease our dependence on Meren, we run Liliana, Heretical Healer, and Journey to Eternity.
Once we have Liliana flipped we will focus on her minus ability, although there is some good utility in her plus she allows us to discard a key piece into the yard. The interaction that makes her an all-star is that when she dies as a planeswalker we can reanimate her as a creature. Therefore, we do not need to worry if she bites the dust. Her minus does exactly what we want, allowing us to bring value pieces like Sakura Tribe Elder and Viscera Seer back from the grave (these will be discussed later). Even if she is the only reanimation engine we have, that is enough.
Journey to Eternity is a card I was unsure about however, thus far it has pulled its weight. When we enchant a creature with the enchantment side we get the payoff twice as Journey returns the creature to the field. Which is nothing to sneeze at however, the land side is the interesting part. Five mana to reanimate a creature seemed like too much, however the ability to reanimate at instant speed is well worth the extra costs. Additionally, if our Meren costs upwards of six mana to cast, paying five to activate Journey to Eternity is a bargain at that point. Those cards in addition to our commander are our reanimation engines, we are also running a suit of one-off reanimation effects such as Animate Dead, Necromancy, Reanimate, and Victimize. Additionally, we run Living Death when if played at the correct time can be a one-sided board reset. We can leave our opponents with nothing while we have an army.
A general piece of advice that I have learned: more reanimation is always better. This is an area that I have found can never have too much redundancy. When we are sacrificing and reanimating our board willy-nilly the game will end in short order. I devoted more slots to being reanimator rather than other generic spells that most decks will need. If our engine is online there is not much that will cause the gears to stop turning. All we need is a sacrifice outlet and a reanimation engine therefore, having both of these on the field is paramount. The more sacrifice and reanimation we have the better; more death means more value. With Meren and company at our disposal a express trip to value city awaits.
In order for us to get our value engine online we need ways to sacrifice our creatures and get experience counters from Meren. The ideal early game is dropping a sac outlet and ramping during the first three turns. When Meren comes to the table everything had better be set up, ready for her to feast. Our sac outlets are mostly creatures, with Phyrexian and Ashnond’s altar headlining our non creature sac outlets. A reanimation engine and a sac outlet together are the linchpins of our value engine as previously mentioned. By far the best sac outlet in this case is Viscera Seer, which can sacrifice itself to scry and add an experience counter if we have Meren. If a hapless opponent attempts to exile the Seer we can sac it in response and it will remain in our graveyard. The ideal early game is to ramp first, then tutor for and play our sac outlet. I always grab the Seer first or if the Seer is unavailable I grab Carrion Feeder. Once we have a sac outlet and a way to reanimate our creatures it’s only a matter of turns before our game-winning combo is staring at us. Creatures that sacrifice themselves also provide good utility. As for the outlets themselves most of the time we do not care about what the payoff is from, save for the scry from Viscera Seer. We only care that it gets our creatures to die.
We are in green so we run an ample ramp package which gives us the resources to get our value engine online. We favor mana dorks over land ramp, there is no Cultivate or Kodama’s Reach here. The reason is that once we no longer need the mana that the dorks provide they become sacrifice fodder. The amount of creatures that we have on our field is a resource that we utilize, especially in the case when we have our best buddy Viscera Seer, we get even more scrys if we have dorks sitting idly on the battlefield. Their lives and deaths will be put to use! We might favor our mana dorks over land ramp but we do run both Sakura Tribe Elder (Steve), and Viridian Emissary. Steve is one of the best value pieces in this deck, he sacrifices himself, going to the bin ready to be reanimated. Steve pulls double duty by ramping us, giving experience counters, and deck thinning. This makes it less likely that we will draw lands in the late game.
It is noticeable that our card draw package is pretty slim. The only cards we run that are pure cardraw are Sylvan Library, Phyrexian Arena , and Grim Haruspex. This trio is generally enough to get us by while our sacrificial value pieces pull us to a win. If we are desperate for card advantage we can tutor for any of the aforementioned. The card advantage that will pull us ahead of most other strategies is that our cards are a value mine versus a one time gem. Thus far I have not experienced issues with being hellbent since the graveyard is essentially an extension of our hand.
I put this little guy in his own category since he really does not fit in any of the above slots. This cheeky frog is our answer to big nasty boards of creatures. Since Spore Frog costs one mana if we sacrifice it, we can reanimate it on end step with Meren. This is essentially a repeatable fog that can buy us the time needed to find one of our combos to end the game. I personally refer to him as Spore Fog. With this card on the field we can bide our time collect our resources and find either an answer to the board we are facing or a way to win the game.
We are a proactive combo deck therefore, we do not run much instant speed spot removal. Rather than use slots on destroying our opponents permanents we instead focus on our own gameplan. That being said, there are auto includes at instant speed as well as creatures that act as removal which we can sacrifice and recur in order to clear out our opponents’ boards. Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner are both fantastic as they get around indestructible, protection and hexproof/shroud. They also give us an experience counter and come right back when we hit three counters, these are the kinds of cards that pull double duty in a Meren deck. Ravenous Chupacabra falls into the same category, four mana isn’t unreasonable, and the ability to hit any of our opponents creatures is exactly the kind of ETB trigger we want. The flexibility is paramount, and the reason I do not run Shriekmaw; evoking for two is nice, however, the limitations made it an instant cut. I evaluate removal on how versatile it can be for the cost. The instant speed removal spells that are included are the usual subjects Krosan Grip, Beast Within, and Putrefy. All of these boast versatility at an efficient cost. The deck also runs a selection of artifact and enchantment removal stapled to creatures in addition to the aforementioned instants. All of these share the same ability to rid the battlefield of problem permanents much of which are graveyard hate. Caustic Caterpillar is a fantastic include as it sacrifices itself and is a one mana creature it can be easily reanimated with Meren if we have a single experience counter.
Every once in a while we need to reset the board. The deck runs only three board clears, perhaps this should be more however I have not experienced any issues with the current suite. We can usually end the game before a board wipe becomes necessary; or, we have other ways of holding the fort already online. I could easily see a Meren deck that runs more board wipes if one is attempting to skew the deck more to stax or control. The creature wipes we are running are some of the cheapest mana-wise that black has to offer in Damnation and Toxic Deluge. In most cases we can cast a tutor to fetch our board clear and then cast in on the same turn. In addition, we have a repeatable artifact and enchantment board wipe in Bane of Progress. Since it is an ETB trigger as soon as we see the board filled with more artifacts and enchantments once again we can sacrifice our big bad bane and wipe them away again. A Bane of Progress in the graveyard means the artifact or enchantment decks cannot progress their game plan, affording us more time to push for the win. Many a game has been one by a well-time Bane of Progress it should be run in the vast majority of decks with green, aside from enchantress decks and the like.
Ah, my favorite payoff for having access to black mana: the ability to look for any card my little heart desires. A value engine is all well and good but what’s the point of all the setup if it does not progress us to our endgame? A value engine with no endgame is like a rudderless boat, and in this metaphor our tutors are the rudder, and winning is our destination. This deck runs a high density of them, taking advantage of black’s ability to fetch any card and green’s creature fetching acumen. With this many tutors we can pick and choose which of our wincons to pursue. This also improves consistency if we need to draw a card, if we draw a tutor then it’s like we drew the card we wanted. The usual suspects (Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor) do not need mentioning there are some spells that are a reanimator’s dream. First and foremost Buried Alive tutors three creatures to our yard, this can be used to fetch many of our combos and immediately win, if we resolve a Buried Alive we can win the game on the spot. The same goes for Tooth and Nail if we entwine it, we can fetch a pair of creatures that will create an instant win, and there are a few of these pairs. Another graveyard tutor is Entomb, a one mana at instant speed that gets a card to our graveyard. If we have a reanimation spell in hand we can entomb some titanic threats. One of the best entomb targets is Razaketh the Foulblooded. If this nasty demon hits the battlefield is most situations we can be seconds away from winning. We can sacrifice creatures which we love doing and get however many demonic tutors we need. I have also won a fair few games with beating in with this demonic baddie, I mean, he is an 8/8 with flying and trample. We also run Sidisi, Undead Vizier as a repeatable tutor that gets us an experience counter when she exploits one of our other minions. Another repeatable creature tutor is Fauna Shaman, this little elf imitates Survival of the Fittest’s effect except not as broken. She requires a turn to become active, however she turns the creatures in our hand into any creature in our deck while filling our graveyard with future undead servants. This deck is in some sense a creature-based toolbox and it runs two cards in the same category as the aforementioned shaman. These are some of the best cards in the deck since they essentially store our creatures wherever we please. This can be either our battlefield, our graveyard, or our hand. I cannot convey how many times I have discarded Protean Hulk to Survival then reanimated it immediately to win. The amount of lines that Survival opens up is astounding. Birthing Pod is not as much of an instant win as survival however, if we untap with Pod still on the field a win is not far away. Birthing Pod also has quite an infamous reputation as a modern banned card which I have used to great effect. I most often use Pod as bait however if our opponent does not take the bait then the game is all but ours. I have more than a few times used Pod to bait out the last counterspell only to combo off and win. These are the kinds of situations that this deck generates that create impossible situations for those pesky blue players at the table. If they do not counter the bait a win is close if they do a win is marginally closer. This is a key part of our gameplan: get value during the first few turns, use the value to fetch us a combo, and win the game.
We have arrived to our destination, the end to our means, the goal-winning the game. As has been mentioned we will most commonly do this with some kind of infinite combination to eliminate our opponents all at once. When we take control of the game with our value engine we need ways to bring it home. There are a few combos in the deck, some are easier to get than others. I will begin with my most common win conditions.
The fact that this card was banned should be telling, it is quite good. My most common win condition is to sacrifice Hulk in order to get Walking Ballista and Mikaeus the Unhallowed. Both of these enter at the same time Ballista becomes a 1/1 due to Mikaeus being a lord for non-humans. We sacrifice our favorite construct to whatever outlet we have, it comes back due to undying with a +1/+1 counter, we can use Walking Ballista’s bottom ability to remove the counter to hit someone for one, sacrifice again and repeat machine gunning down the table. This is the combo that can be fetched up with Hulk. When attempting to get this combo online we need to be mindful of those with any blue mana open, Stifle and Disallow are our worst nightmare here as they can counter the undying trigger, additionally Faerie Macabre, and our friend Krosan Grip will also break this combo. If we get stopped then we must simply pass the turn. Since we have signaled to the entire table that we are a hair away from winning we will likely not make it back to our turn. Be mindful of the gamestate and know when it’s a good time to attempt to win and when it’s not. Risk assessment and understanding when there is a WINdow for us to jump through are critical and skills that will be improved after playing this deck for a while.
This is one of our combos that is the cleanest win from a resolved Buried Alive as mentioned when we discussed tutors. Necrotic Ooze has activated abilities of all creatures in all graveyards. When we have Triskelion and Phyrexian Devourer in our graveyard Nooze has both activated abilities. We can use the Devourer’s ability to exile our deck and get that many counters equal to the mana cost of our deck we then use Triskellion’s ability to ping our opponents to death. This combo is an easy grab with Buried Alive; we can then use any of our reanimation effects to bring Ooze to the field.
Ah another combo with Mikaeus, it never gets old! Seriously this zombie is combo city there are so many ways to abuse Undying! For example, any creature that’s not a human with Persist combos with Mike, enter Woodfall Primus who is certainly not a human who destroys a noncreature permanent upon entering. If we have both of these with a sacrifice outlet, then the counters from Persist and Undying cancel each other out. We can keep sacrificing Primus to destroy all of our opponents noncreature permanents, including their lands. We effectively lock down the game at this point, if they do not scoop up their cards then we can beat in with whatever creatures we have for the win as our opponents are unable to cast spells.
I’m mentioning this since while it’s there, it’s rather unwieldy to use since we cannot Protean Hulk into it, and additionally the two pieces are both six drops. It’s also one of the more basic combos in the format, both of these cards are also for other combos therefore, this would be considered Plan D if the previous plans do not suffice however, I have not won with this combination since the previous three combos were added.
If the reader is wondering how it works I will briefly explain; essentially we are abusing Mikaeus giving all our non-humans undying. Triskelion enters with three +1/+1 counters, and we can remove one counter to ping an opponent for one. We then remove two more counters, aiming the damage at Triskelion, it dies and returns because of undying from our favorite combo-tastic zombie Mikaeus. We can repeat this process to machine gun our opponents down.
These combos do not only provide us with a way to win efficiently, they also decrease our dependence on our commander. Meren might enable these combos but she does not need to be on the field for any of them to work. It’s no worry if Meren gets removed to the point that we can no longer cast her. As there are multiple paths to victory that do not involve her being present.
Grey Merchant of Asphodel(Gary)
This win condition is not a infinite combo, but with the sheer density of reanimation effects we can get Gary’s trigger enough times to drain out the table. If the game has gone long enough we usually have accumulated a good amount of black devotion. If we can stack enough reanimation effects we can drain our opponents to death with this humble common from Theros. This is like Plan E with Plans A through D stated above.
Meren can also be built as a stax deck. While I did not build in that direction I do include one brutal stax creature that assembles a soft lock with our commander. I am referring to Mindslicer, this horror serves two purposes, the first of which is combo protection. If we are ready to annihilate our opponents with one of the above combos but there’s a sneaky blue mage at the table, Mindslicer gets those cards out of their hand. If we play this creature we take away the control player’s most valuable resource: time. We force them to use their answers now or risk losing that lovely grip of cards. This is exactly the kind of stax piece that we want: a symmetrical effect that will be damning for our opponents but not for us; as we get to dump resources into our graveyard. Mindslicer can also assemble a soft lock on the game, if we have four or more experience counters we can sacrifice Mindslicer to make the table pitch their hands. We can then yank Mindslicer back to the battlefield. We can essentially not allow anyone to have a hand while we have access to our resources that reside in our graveyard. Between the combos and one nasty stax lock my playgroup is a tad sick of this deck. This deck can be built on the cheap, even without all the expensive tutors Meren is a threat and she will captain a strong value engine.
General Gameplay advice
When considering whether to keep a hand there are a few things to look for;firstly, a mana dork or Steve, a sacrifice outlet(Seer) or a tutor that can fetch us the Seer or whatever other sacrifice outlet that tickles our fancy. Do not fear spending an early tutor we need our value engine to come online as soon as possible. Past those two requirements the rest depends on what other decks are at the table. If there are any decks with white beware of Rest in Peace, if that card hits the battlefield at the wrong time this can be game ending for us. Thus, keeping a hand with some enchantment removal might be best. Additionally, be cautious of dumping too many resources into the yard too quickly as it will cause the Meren deck to be in the crosshairs of graveyard hate. Also, be mindful of instant speed graveyard hate such as Rakdos Charm. If there is on board hate force the player to pull the trigger in other words attempt to bait them. What to use as bait is a judgement call what is necessary to find a win can vary based on the game state. Krosan Grip is our saving grace when we have an abundance of resources in our yard that we do not want to see vanish into the aether. Additionally we run a Riftsweeper so we can redeem whatever we please from the void.
Why I love this deck
Some will shy away from running Meren as the leader of their armies. For those who are thinking of running another commander to learn their undead crusade I say this: Golgari at its roots is all about acquiring value from the graveyard, we turn our trash to treasure at the drop of a hat. We are resilient we rebuild from board wipes and a good chunk of stax(resource denial) effects are not as detrimental for us. Counterspells do not even bother us as if the blue player counters an important piece it will surely be reanimated in short order. Even if we find ourselves behind it is only a matter of time before we come back with a vengeance. Our opponents have only so many resources before their reserves run dry whereas our armies and threats are ever present. Meren is a picturesque commander for any looking to join the Golgari Swarm. I hope that you have enjoyed and I invite to come join the Swarm the sewers under Ravinia are dark and quiet.
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