Conditions Allow - Sarevok, Deathbringer EDH
(Sarevok, Deathbringer | Art by Ben Hill)
Hello, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I take cards with a drawback and build decks to turn them into a strength. This week I'm continuing with another background pairing from Battle for Baldur's Gate. This one was tough because Sarevok, Deathbringer only really works if your opponents let him.
Sarevok, Deathbringer has the powerful ability to deal direct damage to your opponents. Similar to Athreos, God of Passage or Liesa, Shroud of Dusk, Sarevok, Deathbringer can steadily whittle away life totals. But unlike those two commanders it's nearly impossible to trigger Sarevok's ability on purpose. It is incredibly rare for a turn to go by with no permanents leaving play. Creatures die in combat all the time. Sacrificing creatures and artifacts are two entire deck archetypes, as is blinking creatures for value. Add to that the growing popularity of Treasure tokens, and your opponents will nearly always have something to sacrifice during their turn.
Additionally, Sarevok, Deathbringer doesn't care who owns the permanent that leaves play. If an opponent Terminates another opponent's Ancient Copper Dragon, they'll dodge all damage from Sarevok. Of course, they could just as easily Terminate Sarevok himself, but why would they need to?
This makes me think that Sarevok wants to be a resource denial commander. Either staxy, with Rule of Law and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, or discard, with Waste Not and Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Stopping your opponents from doing anything is a great way to guarantee that Sarevok triggers as often as possible, but it isn't the kind of game I want to be playing. It did get me thinking though. Sarevok, Deathbringer already starts to limit your opponent's options. Can they afford to develop their own game plan, or do they have to make use their removal early, or sacrifice a creature in combat they'd rather keep around? Blocking also becomes an interesting decision. If someone chump blocks a big attacker, they're also saving that player from taking damage from Sarevok.
We'll need to consider two things as we consider cards for this deck. First, and most important, is going to be removal. If we're flushing removal out of everyone else's hand early, it's entirely possible for the player just before us to capitalize and take over the game. If you can't deal with that threat, then you've effectively handed the game to someone else. Second, is taking advantage of your opponents playing around Sarevok, Deathbringer's triggered ability. Creatures are going to be the most readily available sacrifice fodder, so we'll make sure we can take as much advantage of other players' creatures dying as possible.
Before any of that we need to make sure that our commander is a credible threat. And that starts with choosing the correct background. By far the most popular on EDHREC is Raised by Giants, for obvious reasons. For six mana, your commander becomes a 10/10. No conditions, no restrictions. Having access to green also opens up a lot of excellent tools for removal and protection. I also want to consider Far Traveler though. White has excellent removal and protection options, and while Far Traveler doesn't make Sarevok more threatening, it almost guarantees you a way to avoid Sarevok's triggered ability, which could be just as valuable.
Going green with Raised by Giants seems like the obvious choice, so I'm going to go with Far Traveler. Rather than leaning into Sarevok, Deathbringer, I want to shore up his natural unreliability with a solid backup option. Orzhov isn't the most well established color combo for blink decks, but it is quite potent. First, however, let's look at how we can best leverage Sarevok.
Their Pain, Your Gain
Creatures are the card type most players will sacrifice to dodge Sarevok, Deathbringer's damage, so you're going to want to benefit when they die in other ways. Harvester of Souls and Morbid Opportunist let you draw a card whenever any creature dies, whether you controlled it or not. As life totals drop over the course of the game, your opponents will have greater and greater incentive to get a permanent off the field, letting you draw more and more cards. And while Shadows of the Past doesn't actually draw you cards, it does let you dig down to answer a threat or apply more pressure to the board.
The rest of the death triggers in the deck are focused on lowering life totals, or making Sarevok, Deathbringer into a much more potent threat. Syr Konrad, the Grim and Dreadhound each ping your opponents whenever a creature hits the graveyard, and I'm including Dingus Staff as well. This deck is relatively creature light, so you won't have to worry about taking as much damage as your opponents. The real standout in this category, however, is Blade of the Bloodchief. Equipping the blade to Sarevok puts your opponents in a difficult situation. Every creature they let die to avoid damage becomes an extra point of damage they'll have to contend with later. If it can stick around for long enough, your commander even becomes a threat in combat.
You're Gonna Go Far Kid
The real star of this deck, however, is Far Traveler. As a Background, it only function with your commander in play. This ensures that you're always advancing both of your game plans together, and that the suite of cards dedicated to keeping Sarevok alive still contribute something if you have to rely on Gray Merchant of Asphodel to win. For the most part, however, the creatures I've included help you draw cards.
Along with Rumor Gatherer and Welcoming Vampire, these all ensure that you'll never have an empty hand. Of the various creatures that draw a card when they enter play, Inspiring Overseer and Skyscanner are the best in this deck. Far Traveler can only blink tapped creatures, so flying allows them to attack safely most of the time. The rest are still worth including, however. There are a few tricks to tap creatures without attacking, and Sarevok, Deathbringer is going to be a magnet for removal. You need to be able to protect him from the moment you cast him. Drawing those protection spells is vital to this deck functioning.
For some utility, I'm including Scouting Hawk to help ramp and Ravenous Chupacabra to help deal with creatures. Skyclave Apparition also gets included for its ability to hit any nonland permanent. I'm mostly relying on spells for removal, since black and white give you access to some of the best creature removal in the game, but these two help ensure you have answers when you need them. And then finally we have Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Gary, as he's colloquially known, needs no introduction, and serves as a solid backup win condition if Sarevok just can't get the job done.
Tapping Into Elsewhere
As I mentioned earlier, Far Traveler can only blink tapped creatures. You don't want to risk losing your Skyclave Apparition in combat, and Wall of Omens can't attack. That's where Holdout Settlement and Survivors' Encampment come in. These two lands let you tap a creature to add a mana of any color, so you can always blink the creature you want. Springleaf Drum does the same thing, helping you ramp. Finally, you can entwine Collective Effort by tapping your creatures. A +1/+1 counter on all your creatures won't do much in this deck, but destroying a creature and an enchantment for three mana is a good rate.
Which brings us to the final set of cards, Shelter effects. You need Sarevok, Deathbringer to stay in play throughout the game, so I've fit just about as many ways to protect him into the deck as possible. Some of them, like Armor of Shadows and Blacksmith's Skill grant indestructible, while others give protection from a color. I've found a mix of these two effects to be useful. Indestructibility protects against some things protection doesn't, mainly board wipes, but protection can be used offensively to prevent blocking if you need to get an attack through. It also stops targeted exile effects, like Reality Shift. Depending on how often you run into those effects, you can adjust the distribution of indestructible to protection to fit your needs.
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And that's the deck. You may have overlooked Sarevok, Deathbringer initially, but I think he has some interesting play patterns to offer. I certainly don't think I covered all of the possibilities here, so let me know how you'd approach this commander in the comments, and thanks for reading!