This is my second of two what I would consider well-tuned EDH decks, and I was inspired to build it after playing against Hayes’ Child of Alara list and observing just how powerful a lands-based strategy can be. The power of a lands-based strategy stems from the fact that the number and types of cards that profitably interact with lands is extremely low, so if you can find ways for your lands to perform certain functions that would normally be reserved for spells (removal, card advantage, protection, etc.), then it can be very difficult for your opponents to disrupt your game plan. This deck is designed to use The Gitrog Monster as a card advantage engine, and hosts lots of effects that put lands in your graveyard in ways that for other decks would be merely incidental (sacrificing, fetching, cycling, milling, and discarding), but in this deck have the added bonus of putting more cards in your hand. A crucial aspect of the deck’s power is that the various ways of putting lands into your graveyard, especially fetching, are all things that pretty much any deck would naturally do anyway, so it’s not even as if you have to put in any extra work – essentially, The Gitrog Monster is a commander that rewards you for playing Magic.
The Game Plan
The principal win condition in this deck is a three-card combo consisting of The Gitrog Monster, Skirge Familiar, and Dakmor Salvage. If The Gitrog Monster and Skirge Familiar are both on the battlefield, you can discard Dakmor Salvage and dredge it back to your hand as many times as you please for infinite black mana. The presence of Kozilek, Butcher of Truth ensures that you won’t deck yourself, and since you’re dredging through your deck infinitely, you can keep digging until you assemble any number of iterations that kill the table (infinite landfall triggers with Ob Nixilis, the Fallen, for example).
In the meantime, there are five different modes in which the deck can operate at any given moment, and the particular contents of your hand in the context of the present game state will dictate which mode you decide to perform at a given time. The modes are as follows:
Card advantage – In some games states, your hand will be such that you draw a ton of cards at lightning speed to dig to your combo. While playing in this mode, you could easily cast ten spells in a single turn and still have to discard to hand size turn after turn, simply because each iteration nets you more cards in your hand, not less. Note that you will often be able to sculpt your hand during the clean up step because The Gitrog Monster will trigger if you discard a land to hand size.
Mana ramp – In some games states, your hand will be such that you get twenty mana sources on the board by turn seven. This clearly allows you to cast spells of greater power and relevance, and in greater quantity than your opponents, making it so that you can answer your opponents’ threats one-for-one faster than they can present them. This mode is also almost exclusively the mode you start the game with. If your opening hand doesn’t allow you to cast The Gitrog Monster before turn five, you should probably mulligan.
Hand destruction – This is the least frequently used mode because there is only one card that facilitates it, but it’s an extremely potent lock when in happens. With The Gitrog Monster in play, Raven’s Crime allows you to net your opponents card disadvantage while you remain at card parity. Discarding Dakmor Salvage and then dredging it back also insures that you never run out of lands to pay for the retrace cost, and it also statistically nets card advantage because you will mill a land approximately half the time.
Beat down – There is a small handful of heavy hitters in the deck, namely Avenger of Zendikar, Marit Lage (created via Dark Depths), and Ob Nixilis, the Fallen, but you usually won’t resort to this strategy until you have taken control of the game; with this deck, winning the game should be an afterthought. Actively killing someone with your beat-down cards before you have stabilized is very much plan B, and it likely means that you are desperately racing an opponent who is trying to kill you first.
Note that determining which mode you decide to operate in is extremely contextual, and it is generally advisable to choose only one mode and stick to it until you see a need to shift to something else – don’t try to mix and match. The reason for this is that usually in the early to mid-game the modes are mutually incompatible. For example, it’s difficult to ramp if you’re exhausting your land drops on multiple Strip Mines over the course of several turns. If you do reach a point when you can operate in more than one mode at once, that’s your signal that you’re in the late game and that you’ve stabilized and seized control of the board. In other words, a game in which you eventually operate in multiple modes is one you’re extremely likely to win.
Since the general is so crucial to this deck’s strategy, it’s important that you can protect it. Fortunately, your mana ramp is subtly the most powerful source of protection you have because your opponents will often conclude that you could so easily re-cast your general if they were to remove it that it’s just not worth the effort.
Yavimaya Hollow, Maze of Ith, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, and Command Beacon (which you can easily recur for multiple uses) are protection lands that are difficult to interact with, and Golgari Charm, Constant Mists, and Sylvan Safekeeper serve as added insurance. Sylvan Safekeeper even pulls double duty because, in addition to being a protection spell, you can also sacrifice lands at whim to draw extra cards if need be.
There are only eleven cards in the deck that net you more cards in your hand on their own without the general in play; however, The Gitrog Monster makes it so that every card that incidentally puts lands into your graveyard, totaling a full thirty, seventeen of which are lands themselves, also functions as card advantage.
Life from the Loam and Dakmor Salvage are far and away the most powerful card-advantage cards in the deck because of their flexibility and recursive properties, and Entomb helps facilitate these. Crucible of Worlds ensures that you never run out of fetch lands that draw extra cards. Realms Uncharted is also extremely versatile, and a frequent (though not ubiquitous) line of play will be to find only two lands, failing to find the other two, and put them both into your graveyard by default. A Nissa, Vital Force emblem, which comes out the very next turn after she’s played if she’s not removed, usually means game over as well.
The most powerful ramp cards in the deck are Lotus Cobra, Splendid Reclamation, and Azusa, Lost but Seeking. It is not at all unreasonable to expect Lotus Cobra to net three extra mana per turn, and I’ve found that Splendid Reclamation usually approximately doubles the amount of mana you untap with next turn. Azusa, Lost but Seeking helps ensure that you’re not bottlenecked on mana when you’ve drawn what feels like a hundred extra cards in one turn.
If you feel like you have enough lands in play and don’t feel the need to make any more mana-generating land drops, spending your land drops on Wasteland, Strip Mine, and Tectonic Edge and recurring them with Life from the Loam or Crucible of Worlds can be a great way to bottleneck your opponent’s mana while netting card advantage. Pox is a symmetrical effect that you will have to sculpt the board state around for it to be effective, but can swing the game heavily in your favor when you cast it if you do so. Terastodon, Beast Within, and World Breaker are other mana denial effects, and Terastodon can also be used to destroy your own lands to bolster your board presence and draw extra cards if needed. Terastodon, Beast Within, and World Breaker, in addition to being mana-denial effects, are also extremely versatile catch-all removal spells, capable of killing artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers.
The fact that this deck is so committed to being on theme means that its removal package is pretty slim, but the removal cards that are included are simply too powerful and flexible to pass up. Toxic Deluge and Pernicious Deed are especially potent because they can usually answer the most relevant threats on the board without killing your general. The only graveyard hate in the deck are Deathrite Shaman and Bojuka Bog, which both have very low opportunity cost because they generate mana as well. Other graveyard hate options like Scavenging Ooze and Leyline of the Void are obviously also available if your local metagame calls for them.
Thespian’s Stage plus Dark Depths is a well-known combo that puts most opponents on a two-turn clock, and it’s also worth noting that this iteration will trigger The Gitrog Monster not once but twice – once for the legend rule, and once again for the resolution of the Dark Depths trigger. Avenger of Zendikar and Ob Nixilis, the Fallen are obviously powerful in a deck that can easily generate four or more landfall triggers per turn in the midgame. Squandered Resources is also a finisher of sorts in the sense that it can swing the game and generate extreme advantage in a single turn, but you have to have strong pay-off cards at the ready for it to be worth the investment. The obvious strongest synergy with Squandered Resources is Splendid Reclamation.
The Mana Base
The fact that this deck carries every possible fetch land along with a number of land tutor effects means that the basic land count has to be very high; otherwise, you would soon run out of fetch targets. This is why lands that tap for BG and enter the battlefield tapped are not included, with the exception of Golgari Rot Farm because it facilitates extra land drops. The need for a lot of basic lands also puts a limit to the number of utility lands the deck can support. There is a lot of utility lands that could potentially be included (Volrath’s Stronghold, Blighted Woodland, Dust Bowl, Glacial Chasm, etc.), but aren’t because it would dilute the basic land count beyond viability. The fact that there are a lot of basic lands is not a huge drawback because the deck’s mana is not extremely color-greedy, and the first two fetch targets will usually be the Alpha and Ravnica dual lands anyway. It is also incidentally a hedge against Blood Moon, which may be relevant depending on your local metagame. Finally, there are ten colorless mana sources, eleven if you count Sol Ring, to spend in the fringe scenario of activating of World Breaker‘s recursion ability.
In comparison to my Animar, Soul of Elements list, this deck is certainly less explosive, but is also much more consistent and less prone to disruption in the early game when you’re setting up. It’s also very important to realize that this deck probably wouldn’t be appropriate in playgroups that demonize strategies that can generate locks on their opponents.