Commander Unstable Mutation: Undead Unleashed

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

We’ve previously covered the mechanics and cards of Midnight Hunt, the newest Innistrad-set expansion for Magic: the Gathering. This week we’re covering the Commander preconstructed decks for the set – what they’ve got, how to play them, and how to improve them.

Undead unleashed is one of two new commander precons released as part of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt: Commander: Excessive New product: Secret Lair: Dolla dolla bill ya’ll.

But anyway, we’re here to talk about a deck focused on zombies and death, with a number of new cards:

Cleaver Skaab (MIC)

This is a really awesome card.  It’s sadly too expensive, but it’s really fun.  It works really with zombies’ general sort of abilities.  Zombies tend to have on death triggers, enter battlefield triggers, and triggers related to how many zombies you have.  You can use Cleaver Skaab’s ability to create a death trigger and two ETB triggers, or you can choose a creature with triggers to double those triggers up.  There’s a lot of just great synergies with this card, and in slower, more sedately paced games it’s a really fun card.  At 2/4 it really a nice big butt, to stay alive through virtually all mass damage spells that aren’t pure X spells.  It’s also an instant speed spell so you can use it to create triggers on other players turns or use it in response to a targeted removal spell to still get value out of creature or maintain a creature.

Crowded Crypt (MIC)

I think this is medium playable.  3-cost mana rocks are largely a no-no, but the secondary sacrifice ability on Crowded Crypt is useful enough to make it marginally playable in longer games with more durdley type decks.  It also has a really nice recovery feature from wrath-type spells, at least giving you some value for all the creatures you lost.

Curse of the Restless Dead (MIC)

There’s a whole bevy of new curse cards, Lynde, Cheerful Tormentor is a new curse commander, and it’s nice that they are printing some more reasonable, cheaper curses.  I think this has sufficient utility to drop, for 3 mana you ought to get quite a few zombies out of this, so if you have sufficient ways to generate value from tokens it’s a worthwhile addition.  You’ll want to focus it on players who have fetchlands or simic or at least green, since those are the colors most likely to play additional lands or use tutor to the board tables (unless you happen to know better).

Curse of Unbinding (MIC)

So this curse is really really powerful, and can actually completely hamstring certain decks, like ones that run off of Polymorph and a single creature, and it might generate a truly ridiculous amount of value for you, but it costs 7.  So I can only see playing a 7 cost curse in a deck that can ramp immediately and hugely, or else in a deck that wants to cheat it out.  So commander Replenish could easily be a place for curse of unbinding, but aside from rare instances like those, it just seems way too overcost.

Drown in Dreams (MIC)

This is a neat card, it lets you draw and force someone to mill, and I could see this in rogue mill or other decks of that ilk, as a counter to top tutors.  For 4 mana you’re drawing 1 and forcing a mill of two.  If you can generate 5 or 6 mana though this gets to be a pretty seriously decent card, especially at instant speed.  Especially given you can use it to counter a tutor and to draw off that.  Nonetheless, it’s very mana intensive.

Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth (MIC)

This is potentially a playable commander, though at 5 mana it’s a bit much.  Nonetheless investigating off creature death’s is potentially a combo piece and a value piece, and the surveil is based off of token sacrifice as opposed to clue sacrifice, so your commander can cover a lot of ground for you.  I think this is a really neat card as a commander, and potentially a cheat-outable combo piece in a focused deck, where it would get really aggressive is in decks that can generate tokens off deaths and deal damage off treasures or artifact saccing that sort of thing.

Empty the Laboratory (MIC)

This is actually a really powerful card.  Probably the most generically “good” thing in the deck since it will let you do the polymorph type trick, grabbing a couple of combo pieces.  Putrid Imp and Bone Miser are the most likely fetches, letting you discard to draw and generate mana.  Potentially in combination with other pieces, this can be a game-winner.  However, it can also just be a fun value piece, you can sac a bunch of your zombie tokens to go grab more zombies, and the mana cost isn’t bad at all, a tax of two on X, especially if you are making a lot of tokens, especially if you are running altars, is very easily obtainable.

Ghouls' Night Out (MIC)

Ghouls just want to have fun I guess.  It’s an ice fun card, potentially pretty good but also potentially kind of meh, the most likely piece you’d get would be utility creatures, but even though, 5 to get 3 zombie ETBs for 5 mana that are also somehow other useful creatures is pretty good.

Gorex, the Tombshell (MIC)

This guy is awesome.  It’s a giant undead turtle.  I don’t really care what it does, it’s just awesome. 

What it does isn’t hugely good, but it’s fun and should get the cost down to 2 or 4, and then get you those creatures back into your hand.

Hordewing Skaab (MIC)

This is really a pretty solid card.  It’s more or less a variant of “whenever a creature you control deals damage to a player, draw a card” though slightly less good since it maxes at the number of your opponents.  But if you are drawing 3 cards a turn, if you ancestral recall once a turn, that ought to be good enough for you.  In addition, it gives all your zombies an evasion ability, so stacking that on top of coastal piracy is pretty strong.  In addition to that it’s a 3/3 flyer itself, so that’s really pretty decent.  One downside though is that it’ll come into play with summoning sickness, but it will still give you the triggers when other creatures attack.  It’s also nicely a may, so if for some reason you want to draw less, you can.

Prowling Geistcatcher (MIC)

This is potentially a huge card since it lets you set up a scenario where you sac a bunch of creatures then immediately return them to play, and potentially goes infinite if you have some way to make a copy of it, for example, though you’d need 2 clones to pull it off.  But even without going infinite this will let you really abuse a bunch of etb and death triggers, and then have them immediately come back, or you can just use something like Karmic Guide.

Ravenous Rotbelly (MIC)

Forcing everyone at the table to sacrifice up to 3 creatures is a really powerful effect; usually this will just ensure a board clear.  The biggest problem in my opinion is there are two kinds of decks that don’t care about this type of thing: One is go-wide creature attack decks, and the other is non-creature decks.  Th issue with such a debilitating effect is that you can cripple one or two players with something like this, and in the process of doing so virtually hand the win to someone else.  However I think the risk will often be worth it, and there are a number of nice features here:

  1. It’s an enters-the-battlefield effect, not a cast trigger,
  2. it’s a “may” and an “up to,” so you can choose not to do it,
  3. and it’s not “other,” so you can cast it and have it sacrifice itself.

All in all that’s a lot of upside and I think the 5 cost is potentially worth it, if you are properly leveraging it with things like [[Falkenrath Noble]] [[Mayhem Devil]] or other death and sacrifice triggers.


Shadow Kin (MIC)

Mill 3 every turn on a 2/2 body for 4 with flash isn’t bad but it’s not great.  The copy ability is neat, and it will also let you exile creature combo pieces or potentially become a useful utility creature.  Can definitely see play in rogue decks, bummer it’s a non-changeling shifter since that would be quite useful in rogue decks.

Tomb Tyrant (MIC)

This is a fairly balanced card and thus is probably not really playable, though sacrificing and reanimating is very on point for zombies.  The zombie lord ability is nice too, a nice little anthem for go-wide zombie decks, though as always go-wide is probably not the strongest strategy.

Visions of Dread (MIC)

Potentially this is a really great card.  Personally, I really like the flashback mana reduction, I really think it would be nice if WotC would focus on having a lot of upside to expensive commanders.  Right now some of the strongest commanders are the cheapest, especially using partners, and just having them on the board gives you access to powerful spells like deflecting swatdeadly rollick and fierce guardianship.

Flashback isn’t common in black, but it’s hugely useful given blacks’ ability to mill and self mill, so this is also a really nice upside, and combined with the ability to exile cards from graveyards this may let you grab a game-winning piece.  I think it’s also fun to build powerful decks that are forced to play out of their opponent’s decks, but this can be really disastrous, so be careful.

Visions of Duplicity (MIC)

This is a strange card, though in commander potentially really powerful.  By far I would say the default use is to give two players each others’ commanders, in the hopes that both will keep them alive, and force each other to use creature control on their own commanders to get their commanders back.  This is especially powerful versus “commander on a stick” decks that rely on their commander being in play, think commanders like Gavi, Nest Warden, where the commander is a deck necessary, unique effect.  Lacking Gavi a cycle deck really struggles.  This is kind of a no-fun strategy though, and relies on two of your opponents not deciding to smash their creatures into each other, so you probably want to try to choose targets such that one can’t kill the other.

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver (MIC)

I think this is a really amazing value piece commander, and easily playable in the 99 of a deck, even if it’s not exactly a zombie tribal deck but runs primarily on zombies, and thankfully embalm creates zombies.  It generates a huge amount of value, because if you have a normal 2/2 zombie token, at end step you can sacrifice it to draw a card, then get a decayed token to sacrifice on the next turn, and it generates deaths and etb’s, it’s just really solid all around.  I think this is a really well designed and balanced card and fun to build a deck around.


Undead Unleashed – overview

Here’s a moxfield link to the vanilla deck composition.

The deck’s game plan: It’s a mixed bag of going wide with zombies and some zombie death triggers.  Closing out games will probably be difficult as opponents will run some creature control and possibly board clear, and the deck isn’t heavy on evasion, buffs, or trample.  The Wilhelt, the rotcleaver triggers should let you overpower your opponents eventually through card draw and the fact that your zombies dying gets you more zombies, but you can’t really slam your way through or properly protect Wilhelt, or even stop someone else from comboing off.

The land base: there are way too many ETB tapped lands.  This is a 2-color deck, there’s really no need for so many dual lands.  Obviously a big upgrade here would be a shockland, fetchlands and prismatic vista, though those worth about 10 times what the deck costs so we can put that off.  The mana rocks are okay, but generally, it’s preferable to run colorless mana rocks that etb untapped rather than colored ones that enter tapped, but at least they’re almost all 2-cost rocks.

Control cards: this deck is running almost no instant speed interaction.  In an effort to keep some cards in the deck I haven’t gone crazy here, but more kill spells, more counterspells are just really important.  Interacting at sorcery speed just doesn’t cut it.  Drown in Dreams is a neat spell but it doesn’t do much for us.  Murderous Rider is an obvious import, a zombie knight that’s also a good kill spell (creatures and Planeswalkers, woohoo)

Draw and Tutors: this deck doesn’t run heavy tutors, and the draw is centered on the commander, Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver himself.  There’s a couple of other draw triggers, no real tutors to speak of.  Upgrading the draw in my opinion is important, and the way decayed works creates a real opportunity to sacrifice, even after attacking, and black has a whole useful suite of spells that go “sacrifice a creature, draw 2 cards”.  Given that we’re getting double or triple value out of zombie tokens this means we ought to be drawing a lot.

Our go-wide creature game plan is definitely the decks biggest weakness.  In my opinion there’s several different kind of decks that can be zombie-focused:

  • Decks that combo around graveyard recursion value, often with gravecrawler as a finisher (gravecrawler + phyrexian altar is trivially infinite etbs/death triggers)
  • Decks that make use of mill and recursion, either self-focused or table focused,
  • or decks that do a mix of both

The deck I’ve built via adjustments here leans heavily into cards that put cards into your graveyard, and possibly your opponents.  You can then profit off the mills or cause damage, with cards like Waste Not or Bloodchief Ascension.

Go-wide evasion / tokens: This is probably going to have to include blue, but you could certainly generate a lot of tokens and combine with some “all zombies gain menace/flying/swampwalk” type deals and coastal piracy effects.  If you keep your casting costs low you can rapidly cycle through your deck, generating new threats and wearing down your opponents with your ability to recur or profit off of yours and their creature’s deaths.

Here’s a comparison with the base version of the deck vs the rebuild.

Perhaps predictably enough I’ve focused the rebuild on death triggers.  There are a couple of new death triggers in the deck, and a couple of nice ways to recover from a board clear.  There’s also plenty of room for further improvement, better and more triggers, probably cutting some of the newly printed chaff for more interaction, and upgrading the mana base with fetchlands.

Wilhelt is definitely a decent commander, and his triggers offer the possibility of huge value generation. There’s a couple of really neat new cards in the deck now and I’ve placed the cards I would cut for this version in the sideboard, while the cards I’ve added I’ve tagged with #upgrade.


Next Time: Coven Counters

Later this week will be a rebuild of Coven counters, which you can see the decklist for here. In the meantime if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at