The Inaugural Vorthos Vortex: Baba Lysaga, Night Witch

Justin Fanzo • November 5, 2022

Baba Lysaga, Night Witch by Slawomir Maniak

Greetings, Commander players! Today I'm excited to be introducing a new column that I'm titling Vorthos Vortex. The theme of the column is Vorthos deckbuilding. When it comes to building decks, especially in Commander, it can be difficult to strike a balance between building a powerful deck while also achieving aesthetic consistency or storytelling continuity. This column seeks to help players achieve that balance.

On top of the flavor wins that Vorthos deckbuilding offers, this column will also offer spikier players fun choices for more casual decks when they are playing in low-to-mid powered matches or playing with new players. Instead of focusing only on strategic choices, I want to offer newer players flavor and Vorthos considerations that will give their deck aesthetic pizazz and will resonate with them even when they are still learning all of MTG's mechanics (remember that MTG is considered one of the most complex games in the world).

When I say Vorthos and world-building, I'm not only referring to the lore and backstory of Magic: the Gathering; I'm talking about flavor cohesion and aesthetic continuity. I'm referring to Vorthos in terms of mythology, popular fiction, and even cultural icons outside of Magic.

Finally, I'll try to keep deck lists within a reasonable price point (under $200). I will be leaving out expensive dual lands and fetch lands, but if you have those cards, you should certainly be playing them.

Baba Lysaga, Night Witch

With that, let's talk about our first commander for the column!

The commander that we are talking about today is Baba Lysaga, Night Witch. Baba is the perfect commander for a horror or Halloween-themed deck, as she looks like a wicked witch who would lure unsuspecting children into the woods in an effort to capture them. Baba Lysaga even holds narrative significance in the world of Ravenloft in Dungeons and Dragons, appearing in the fifth edition module Curse of Strahd. I won't say anything else here, other than to go play Curse of Strahd, it's an excellent adventure. Finally, Baba Lysaga is clearly inspired by the famous character from Slavic and eastern European folklore, Baba Yaga.

We don't have time to go into the long and fascinating history of this mythological character here (though you should certainly look into her on your own time), but I'll offer a quick introduction. She is a witch who is often portrayed as morally ambivalent or sometimes even outright evil, often luring children into danger. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about her is that her house sits atop a pair of chicken legs, which she uses to move around. In some stories, she even travels with Death itself on its journey to claim the dead, devouring newly departed souls as it takes them.

Baba Yaga depicted in Tales of the Russian People (published by V. A. Gatsuk in Moscow in 1894)

You can see how such a character fits well within the Golgari colors, and there are a plethora of scary ghouls and ghosts available for us to help make this Halloween-themed Commander deck quite formidable. Being that we've only had two Dungeons and Dragons tie-in sets for Magic, I'll be leaning more heavily on Baba Lysaga's folkloric routes in crafting our Vorthos deck.

Let's start by taking a look at Baba Lysaga's ability. She has an activated ability that requires tapping her and sacrificing up to three permanents (an easy cost to pay for Golgari), and if there are three card types among the sacrificed permanents, each of your opponents loses three life and you gain three life and draw three cards. It sounds like a daunting cost to pay, but there are two things to note about it. First, cards that count as multiple permanent types, such as artifact creatures and enchantment creatures, will count for each of their permanent types, so one card can fill two or even three of the permanent type slots by itself.

Second, you're not required to sacrifice three permanents, only up to three. That means that you can sacrifice one or two permanents and still fulfill the criteria needed for the effect to trigger. To my knowledge, there aren't many cards that will fulfill the three permanents criteria by themselves (unless they are given an extra card type by a card like Ashaya, Soul of the Wild), but there are a plethora of cards that count as two permanent types, and those are the cards that we will want to add to our deck. We want to make it as easy as possible to reach the criteria we need to activate Baba Lysaga's ability, and that means having a healthy balance of permanent types.

My recommendation is to focus on three or four permanent types so that you can include the appropriate cards to help you recur cards of that type. For my version of the deck, I'll be focusing on creatures and lands with a relatively even distribution of artifacts and enchantments. If you want maximum value, though, it's better to be able to target permanents of a specific type. For instance, Life from the Loam will let us recur three lands from our graveyard, whereas cards like Eternal Witness will let us recur only one permanent of any type.

Let's start by looking at creatures. For the Vorthos of this deck, I am primarily looking for disturbing and fantastical critters that can be found lurking in forests and swamps, as Baba Lysaga herself seems to inhabit a liminal territory between them both.


To get the most out of Baba's ability, we want to try and double-up on permanent types on cards when we can. On that note, Gloomshrieker is a must-add card for this deck, it counts as two permanent types (enchantment and creature) while also synergizing with our strategy (it allows us to retrieve a permanent from our graveyard when it enters the battlefield), and it succeeds in the flavor department.

On top of having a name that sounds like something out of folklore, the card art shows a fierce lion-like nightmare creature shrieking in a gloomy meadow. I think of it as Baba Lysaga's terrifying pet that she can summon at-will. The Gitrog Monster is also an excellent include for this deck (yet another card that looks like one of Baba Lysaga's pets), as it cares about lands entering our graveyard (Gitrog lets us draw a card whenever a land enters our graveyard). It's worth noting that Gitrog's ability triggers even when we sacrifice lands to Baba Lysaga's ability, so we could possibly be drawing five or six cards in a turn by sacrificing lands.

Another powerful enchantment creature that we will want to include in this deck is Pharika, God of Affliction. From a Vorthos perspective, she looks like the kind of deity to which Baba pays homage or with whom she makes dark bargains. Pharika's ability will also prove useful, as it will provide us with sacrifice fodder or effective blockers while also hosing other graveyard strategies. Remember that we don't want to pay the cost for her ability with our own graveyard, however, as we will be recurring as many permanents from our graveyard as we can.

Undercity Scrounger is another Vorthos win for this deck. Not only does she look like Baba Lysaga's creepy sister who travels around swamps searching for useless knickknacks, but she also generates Treasure tokens and she counts as an artifact and a creature. For similar reasons, I also recommend including Arasta of the Endless Web. She also looks like one of Baba's evil sisters, and while she doesn't directly synergize with the deck, in most metas she will prove useful in punishing non-permanent decks. Plus, given where the format is headed and the kinds of decks we're seeing, I think that it's safe to say that she'll be generating many creepy little insects for us to sacrifice.

Old Rutstein is a great Vorthos inclusion, as he looks like Baba Lysaga's weird husband or brother who has spent way too much time camping out in the swamp and who has probably murdered more than one person in his day. His ability also cares primarily about milling permanents (we get the most value from his ability when we mill lands and creatures), and over half of our deck is made up of lands and creatures, so there's a good chance that he will do some heavy lifting for us throughout the game.

Silversmote Ghoul really seems like it was made for this deck. It checks to see if we gained three or more life on each of our turns, and if we have and the card is in our graveyard, it returns to the battlefield tapped. That means that we can essentially keep recurring it indefinitely after sacrificing it, as Baba's ability will always give us three life. Another creature that we can continuously recur with our land drops is Bloodghast. Sadly, the card is rather expensive, clocking in at around $15. We won't be running it in our deck, but you should definitely run it if you have it.

Tireless Provisioner will also do a lot of work in this deck. We will be recurring lands that we sacrifice to Gitrog and Baba's abilities, and when we play them again, Tireless Provisioner will reward us with tokens (which can then be sacrificed to Baba's ability!). From a Vorthos perspective, Tireless Provisioner looks like a wandering adventurer who has found themselves lost in Baba's forest.

Some other creatures that fit well in this deck for both Vorthos and strategic reasons include cards like Veinwitch CovenWitch of the Moors, Dina, Soul Steeper, Undercity Scrounger, Reassembling Skeleton, and Tireless Tracker, which fills a similar role as Tireless Provisioner. When it comes to mana dorks, cards like Llanowar Elves are great to include, as they can provide mana in the early game and then be sacrificed later in the game to Baba's ability. For Vorthos reasons, I recommend including the version with Chris Rahn's art.

Gilded Goose is another great inclusion, as not only does it generate us tokens to sacrifice to Baba Lysaga's ability, but it also fits perfectly the flavor of our deck, as the gilded goose also hails from folklore and fables. Scryb Ranger is a worthy choice, especially if you plan on leaning into a Landfall strategy as I have for this particular build. Even in non-Landfall-focused decks, it'll prove useful in untapping cards such as Llanowar Loamspeaker or Baba herself so that they can reactivate their abilities.

I would also recommend including Deathrite Shaman in the deck, and even though it doesn't directly synergize with Baba's ability, the dark magician imagery fits the flavor of the deck and it is just a generally powerful card. I personally include it in nearly all of my green and black decks. With how popular graveyard and land cycling strategies are, this card will do a ton of work more often than not.

Finally, if you are running a Landfall build of this deck, Ramunap Excavator is a must-include. Admittedly, Ramunup clashes a bit with the Vorthos of our deck, so if you're a Vorthos purest, you may consider leaving this card out. Another creature that fits in the same camp is Academy Manufactor, which doesn't obviously clash with our deck's Vorthos, but it also doesn't really synergize either. If you are running a token-focused build of this deck, then it's still worth considering.


When it comes to enchantments, Ulvenwald Mysteries is a must-include in this deck. It creates a nice gameplay loop that generates Clue tokens when our nontoken creatures die and generating Human creature tokens when we sacrifice our Clues, and the nice thing about Clues in this deck is that they can be used for their own ability or Baba Lysaga's, which makes them incredibly flexible.

When it comes to Vorthos, Ulvenwald Mysteries fits our deck perfectly, as it depicts a soldier or guard of some kind investigating the mysterious slaying of a woman in the forest. The dark atmosphere of the forest along with the foreboding created by the murder scene fit our deck's macabre theme of sacrifice and strange dangers in the forest.

Remember that we will likely be sacrificing many of our enchantments to Baba's ability, so it's best to include ones that grants immediate benefits or that can be easily recurred. Demonic Lore and Treacherous Blessing are both flavor wins, as they depict occult magic and witchcraft. They both also grant immediate card draw upon entering the battlefield, after which we are happy to sacrifice them to Baba's ability. Phyrexian Reclamation is an enchantment that we will want to keep around in most cases, as it helps us to recur our creatures, though it can also be sacrificed in a pinch.

Grave Pact and Biotransference (from the Warhammer 40k Universes Beyond set) are both too expensive for my build but are must-includes if you have them. Finally, I would advise including several mana ramp enchantments, such as Wild Growth, that we can use for mana early in the game and then sacrifice to Baba's ability later. Cloakwood Hermit is a great flavor inclusion, as it looks like one of the unsuspecting souls who has been turned into a tree by Baba Lysaga. Mechanically the card helps to keep our arsenal of sacrifice fodder full.

Instants and Sorceries

For instants and sorceries, Feed the Swarm, Putrefy, Infernal Grasp, and Deathsprout are all flavor wins that provide efficient removal. Also, in the case of Deathsprout, the card plays into Landfall strategies as well. The new Warhammer 40K version of Cultivate is another flavorful ramp inclusion. Fungal Rebirth is an excellent way to help us recur the permanents that we sacrifice to Baba's ability. Life from the Loam will help us get back land cards that we sacrifice to Baba's (and also possibly Gitrog's) ability, though for flavor synergy I recommend including Sung Choi's version of the card from Ultimate Masters.

I recognize that there will be a natural urge to avoid putting instants and sorceries in the deck, since we want permanents that we can sacrifice, but when it comes to ramp and removal in particular, few cards are as efficient as the ones mentioned above. We still need to have answers to our opponents' decks, and instants and sorceries can best provide that.


When it comes to artifacts, Liquimetal Coating is a must-include, as it turns permanents into artifacts until end of turn. Mycosynth Lattice, while expensive, is a worthy inclusion for a similar reason, though it has the added benefit of turning all of our permanents into artifacts. For this deck in particular, the cost is worth it. If you only have one or two slots for cards in the $20+ category, I would recommend filling one of those slots with Mycosynth. Speaking of Mycosynths, both Mycosynth Wellspring and its sister, Ichor Wellspring, are both great choices for our deck.

They both reward us when they enter the battlefield and leave the battlefield to go into our graveyard, so we 're more than happy to use them as sacrifice fodder. Also, Ichor Wellspring in particular looks like a bubbling monstrosity that we would find in Baba's swamp. I included Witch's Cauldron for Vorthos reasons, but it also provides us with an ability similar to Baba's for situations where Baba is indisposed, making it a great contingency plan. Unfortunately, I cut Witch's Oven because Food tokens just aren't powerful enough to warrant a card, despite the Vorthos synergy.


When it comes to lands, we will want to make sure that we include all of the artifact lands that we can, including Tree of Tales, Vault of Whispers, and Darksteel Citadel. Mishra's Factory is another must-include, as one of its abilities turns it into an artifact, creature, and land, meaning that we can sacrifice it by itself to trigger Baba's ability! Drownyard Temple is another strong include, as its ability allows us to recur it from the graveyard to the battlefield by paying three mana. For Vorthos reasons, I would recommend including Witch's Clinic and Witch's Cottage, though they should each provide modest value as well.

Win Conditions

So, finally, all of this raises the question: "What is the win condition?" We'll draw a lot of cards, but this isn't a blue deck, so we can't rely on Jace, Wielder of Mysteries or Laboratory Maniac to get us across the finish line. Baba Lysaga herself will deal damage with her ability, and a well-oiled deck will kill opponents with that ability alone, but we don't want to be a one trick pony. We should have other means of winning the game for when our commander is indisposed.

We have several options, and it will really depend on your preferred play style and philosophy in helping you decide what's best for you. For players who prefer a more competitive deck or who don't mind winning with infinite combos, Blood Artist is always a strong choice, as there are a plethora of death trigger combos that you can include with the deck. Blood Artist already synergizes with Baba Lysaga's ability, so even if you don't like using infinite combos, so it will still do a ton of work.

I detest infinite combos, so I will be avoiding the infinite combo build of this deck. Another good option is to build up a strong mana base with land recursion and ramp cards and then use classic cards such as Torment of Hailfire or Exsanguinate to drain your opponents. Finally, Scute Swarm and Titania, Protector of Argoth are particularly effective in this deck, as we are planning on playing and recurring many lands. Each card operates as its own win condition once we get our engine running.

In fact, you could really lean into the land recursion strategy and make land recursion payoffs like Scute Swarm's and Titania's reliable win conditions. If you do want to focus on land recursion, be sure to include World Shaper!

However you decide to build your Baba Lysaga deck, I hope that you will find the deck fun and interesting. It is a quintessential Vorthos commander that harkens back to centuries of folklore and mythology. I also hope that you've found a new appreciation for Vorthos deckbuilding, and that you'll join me for our next installment of Vorthos Vortex, where we will be talking about a Christmas-themed commander to celebrate the holiday season!

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

I'm an avid gamer with a passion for game design and both critical and creative writing. I've been playing Magic: the Gathering for over 15 years, and I've been playing the Commander format since its official adoption by Wizards of the Coast in 2011. My articles focus on vorthos deck building, designing decks for overlooked commanders, and designing commander cubes.