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Commander Starter Decks – Grave Danger

On October 20th, Wizards of the Coast finally gave us the full decklists for the much-anticipated Commander Starter decks.  Releasing on December 2, these five decks provide an inexpensive entry point for new and returning players to get into Magic’s (arguably) most popular format.  The commanders themselves have been spoiled for a while, but we finally know what the 99 looks like.  At about $24 each, these aren’t decks to make the collectors go wild, but they do represent strong deck cores that can be upgraded around for long-term growth within the Commander format.  Even better, these decklists can easily take cards from recent sets or inexpensive older cards for quick powerups.

Wizards chose decent commanders for these precons.  Some of them are on the expensive end of the mana value spectrum, but the commanders show very clearly what the deck is built around.  In my first article on the Commander Starter decks, I said that I planned to write about each of them over the course of a week or two… which clearly hasn’t happened. Please accept this very late article as a peace offering.

Zombies are forever

Zombies are cool.  When I think of the color black in Magic, I think of crumbling tombs in the swamp with zombies crawling out of them.  It’s my favorite tribal archetype, and has been for a long time.  The archetype can be run in just about any color combination that includes black, but the most classic take on zombie tribal has always been Blue/Black, or Dimir.  Taking command in Grave Danger is (are?) Gisa and Geralf.  Originally printed in Eldritch Moon, Gisa and Geralf promotes my three favorite mechanics in Dimir: mill, reanimation, and zombies.  A 4/4 for four, Gisa and Geralf lets you play a zombie card from your graveyard once on your turn.  

Like the other Commander Starter decks, Grave Danger isn’t a tier list, but it provides a great foundation.  The deck is chock full of zombies and zombie-themed cards, with a pretty standard blue/black support package of removal and control.  With Cemetery Reaper, Diregraf Captain, and Lord of the Accursed in the creature base, it introduces new players to one of the tribe’s strengths: its wide variety of lords that make your zombies bigger and beefier.  Creatures like Scourge of Nel Toth and spells like Victimize show off the strong sacrifice/reanimation synergy in Black.  There is little additional self-mill aside from Gisa and Geralf, but with a lot of relatively inexpensive small bodies, it shouldn’t be too hard to fill up the yard even without that.

Upgrades and Additions

All of the Commander Starter decks want for tutors and adjustment to the manabase.  On top of that, Grave Danger also benefits from the addition of more self-mill or looting effects – that is, draw some number of cards, then discard some number of cards – to fill up the graveyard.  There are also a lot of very good, relatively inexpensive zombies that didn’t make the creature list.  Fortunately, upgrades for this Commander Starter deck are easy to come by.

Diabolic Intent (BRO)
Necroduality (VOW)
Rooftop Storm (MIC)

The current Standard sets offer some great replacement options with Underground River and Diabolic Intent from The Brothers’ War, Necroduality from Crimson Vow, and Writhing Necromass from Dominaria United.  For less than five dollars each you can pick up powerful older cards like Rooftop Storm, Gravecrawler, Fact or Fiction, and Frantic Search.  If you’re opening The Brothers’ War, you even have the chance to open up more expensive upgrades like Ashnod’s Altar.

Ashnod’s Altar (BRR)
Gravecrawler (2X2)
Frantic Search (NCC)


With relatively simple mechanics and easy access to strong, relatively inexpensive upgrades, Grave Danger is probably one of the best Commander Starter decks for actually introducing someone to the game or the format.  If it happens to be YOUR Commander Starter deck, here are some key words and phrases that will come in handy:

  • Dimir: A guild from the plane of Ravnica.  The guild’s colors are Blue and Black, so veteran players commonly call the Blue/Black color combination Dimir.
  • Tutor: A card which allows you to search your deck for a specific type of card.
  • Lord: A card which gives a bonus to power and toughness to creatures of the same type.
  • Mill: To place the top card of your library into the graveyard.  To mill X, you place the top X cards from your library into your graveyard.  “Self-milling” is to target yourself with an effect that makes you mill your own cards.
  • Reanimate: To return a card creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield.
  • Sac outlet: A card which allows or requires you to sacrifice a card as part of its casting or activation cost.  Examples are Ashnod’s Altar or Stitcher’s Supplier.
  • Looting: Drawing one or more cards, then discarding that many cards.  Examples include Faithless Looting and Frantic Search.
  • Graveyard Recursion: Being able to repeatedly send cards to the graveyard and then return them to your hand, battlefield, or top of your library.

Are you picking up Grave Danger or one of the other Commander starter decks for yourself?  For a friend?  Let me know your thoughts on how those first few games went!  Share your strategy and upgrade tips in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter.

About the Author
Silver has been playing Magic: The Gathering and other trading card games off and on since 1999, and is a lifelong roleplayer. They believe in Rule 0 and The Rule of Cool, and that the gaming table should be a safe space for everyone.

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