What Would They Play: Louise Michel's EDH deck!

Welcome to What Would They Play?

I'm Charlie, I'm a storyteller, creative writer, and author; I handle the historical sections of the articles.

And I'm Dan, a Commander player who is obsessed with building thematic decks. I connect the stories to Magic cards to create decks that reflect the vibrant tales of the past.

We take famous or not-so-famous figures from history and make Commander decks based on their lives, philosophies, and histories.

Our articles are meant to be part history lesson, part deckbuilding guide. We believe that decks can be expressions of personal philosophies, so a fun way to learn about historical figures -- and flavorful brews -- would be to speculate about what sort of Commander deck a given person would play, given their times, opinions, and philosophies.

It's like a history class, only using the medium of Magic: The Gathering.

This is meant to be an accessible glimpse at the people in question, not a rigorous or definitive biography; we have sources at the end of the article for that!

Let us begin!

Who was Louise Michel?

Louise Michel (1830-1905) was a feminist, teacher, tutor, radical, agitator, poet, militant, author, anthropologist, and anarchist. She is credited with many great deeds including but not limited to popularizing the use of the black flag among anarchists (black as a color of negation, hence the black flag meaning "no nation, no state," more or less), taking a major role in the Paris Commune of 1871, helping the Kanak people of New Caledonia during her exile from France, running an anarchist school in London, and possibly writing the first part of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (yes, that one!) before selling that to Jules Verne (according to Talbot and Talbot's notes).

She grew up in the countryside and eventually took on the role of a teacher, a role she never fully relinquished in her long life.

She also managed to be friends with literally everyone you may have heard from in the 19th century in left circles (obviously excepting that shitstain Adolphe Thiers, who she threatened to shoot at the declaration of the Paris Commune). A short list of people that Louise Michel was friendly with could conservatively include:

  • Peter Kropotkin
  • Errico Malatesta
  • William Morris
  • Georges Clemenceau (yes, that one)
  • Emma Goldman
  • Paul LaFargue
  • Victor Hugo (yes, that one!)1

For a science fiction fan like Louise Michel, an artifact-themed Commander deck seems appropriate. Since she was an early adopter of the black flag of anarchism, her deck is mono-black. Michel wrote, "Without the rule of One, there would be light, there would be truth, there would be justice. The rule of One is a crime;" given that, having just one commander seems too few for her. All of that adds up to her selection of Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor and Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel as her commanders.

For sources on Louise Michel, we recommend the Rebel Lives account of Michel's life, Talbot and Talbot's magnificent graphic biography The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, and of course Ruth Kinna and Clifford Harper's treatment of Michel in their Great Anarchists series.

The Paris Commune (March-May 1871)

There have been, conservatively, about a billion words printed about the Paris Commune of 1871. Taking place at the end of the Franco-Prussian war, the Paris Commune was called "the dress rehearsal for social revolution" after the fact.

It began with the Thiers government moving to disarm the district of Monmarte, a working-class neighborhood of Paris where the National Guard had abandoned their weapons during the German occupation of that city and the French army's defeat.

The women of the district--with Michel in attendance--refused to allow the soldiers to take the cannon, draping themselves over the weapons and daring the soldiers to shoot. The soldiers knuckled under and many of them defected; shortly afterwards, the Commune of Paris was declared in working class neighborhoods like Belleville and Monmarte, spreading throughout the city, flying the red flag of the Paris Commune.

Not the republic: the commune of Paris. The people were armed with whatever they could take--rifles, the cannons abandoned by the army--and set to the hard work of providing for and governing themselves. They concerned themselves with practicals (food and shelter for everyone, requisitioning supplies, etc.) and with meaningful symbolic actions, like the toppling of Napoleon's Vendome Column (a monument to imperialism, war, and nationalism), the exile or executions of priests (a significant booster of the right-wing nationalist French government that stumbled from disaster to disaster throughout France's history), public burning of guillotines2, etc.


A major concern that led to the formation of the Commune was having enough food for the citizens, but in Michel's deck there are enough Food token-producers that it's not a problem. The classic pairings of Witch's Oven with Cauldron Familiar and The Underworld Cookbook with Ovalchase Daredevil are here, and sacrificing Food tokens pumps up Michel's commander Nadier. For the poor of Paris, getting enough to eat would have been a victory itself, and Michel's deck can turn eating Food into a win with cards like Marionette Master and Sanguine Bond that harm her opponents when she sacrifices Food. Ironclad Revolutionary is a deep cut here, mostly included for the revolutionary flavor, but it does help turn Food into damage and leave behind a sizeable body.

Louise Michel was exceptionally busy in the government of the Paris Commune--Talbot and Talbot note that she sent Georges Clemenceau (then the mayor of Monmarte) over six-hundred separate line item requests during the life of the Commune. A sample from one letter gives you a sense of her priorities:

  • Launch an immediate inquiry in each house in the 18th arrondissement, in order to determine the number of old people, infirm, and children.
  • Immediately requisition all abandoned housing in the 18th arrondissement, in order to house all homeless citizens and establish shelters where all children can be fed
  • That all wine and coal in the cellars of abandoned houses be immediately made available for the use of the infirm and sick
  • The complete abolition within the 18th arrondissement of all brothels and working houses for young girls
  • Melt down the Bells of Monmarte to make cannon.

Louise Michel was active in both the men's and women's citizen's vigilance committees.3 She was adamant about the emancipation of women in the Paris commune, believing that the women of the Commune must take the rights of equal education, equal trades, and equal presence in military affairs and demonstrating this through example of radical self-governance.4

The Commune's defensive barricades find their place in Michel's deck as a Walls/defender theme. Cheap Walls, like Excavated Wall and Crashing Drawbridge, help her survive early attacks while setting up her Food engines. There isn't much in the way of defenders-matter payoffs in mono-black, but Blight Pile can chip away at opposing life totals and Shield-Wall Sentinel functions as a second copy. Wall of Limbs, meanwhile, combines the defender and life-gain themes into a slow-but-steady finisher.

Louise Michel stayed with the Paris Commune to the end, fighting on the front line with a rifle when she could. The combined armies of Thier's government and the Prussians combined to surround and then massacre the Communards over the course of a single bloody week.

Louise Michel's Defiant Stand in Court

Relatively few Communards escaped the slaughter of the Bloody Week; Michel was one of them. Her trial was a public spectacle, not the least because she refused to recant her beliefs in front of the judge and jury and literally dared them to sentence her to death, saying: "If you are no cowards, then kill me!"

To quote (at length) from Victor Hugo's poem to Louise Michel on the stand:

"...And those who like me know you are incapable
Of all that is not heroism and virtue,
Who knows that if God said to you: Where are you from?
You would answer: I come from the night when we suffer;
God, I am stepping out of the duty which you are making an abyss!
Those who know your mysterious and sweet verses,
Your days, your nights, your care, your tears, given to all,
Your forgetting of yourself to help others,
Your word like the flames of the apostles;
Those who know the roof without fire, without air, without bread,
The sling bed with the fir table,
Your kindness, your pride as a popular woman,
The bitter affection that sleeps under your anger,
Your long gaze of hatred for all the inhuman,
And children's feet warmed in your hands;
These, woman, before your fierce majesty,
Meditated, and, despite the bitter fold of your mouth,
Despite the curser who, beating down on you,
Cried at you all the indignant cries of the law,
Despite your fatal and high voice that accuses you,
Saw the angel shine through the medusa..."

Michel's willingness to become a martyr for freedom connects to the creature-sacrifice portion of Keskit's ability. Costly Plunder, Deadly Dispute, and Reprocess also offer ways to sacrifice creatures, as well as artifacts. Old Flitterfang offers a Food token as an additional payoff for these sacrifices, and Liliana's Standard Bearer can replace the sacrificed creatures with card draw, while suggesting the black flag that Michel famously waved.

The court blinked, and instead sentenced Louise Michel to transportation to a prison colony in New Caledonia, along with many other ex-Communards. Fortunately, due to a cartographic error, the French authorities placed their prisoners not on the intended desolate prison colony, but on New Caledonia proper.

New Caledonia

Louise Michel and her fellow Communards settled into New Caledonia, but Michel was determined to use what time she had available to her for good. She befriended the native people, the Kanaks, and set up a school for all who took an interest in learning. She was taught the Kanak language (and taught French to them in return); served as an anthropologist, compiling a dictionary of the Kanak language; and headed up a theater program to produce plays written by Kanaks in their own language.

Michel brings this mutual exchange of learning to the Commander table with Keen Duelist, which lets her choose a comrade to share a card draw with. She was known to give away the very clothes from her back and shoes from her feet to others who needed them; with Fateful Handoff, she can help out a player who's falling behind and win an ally in the process.

Michel was the most vocal of the Communards in stating that the essential enemies of all working people--French, Kanak, whomever--were the same governments and imperial forces that exploited them. She identified strongly with the Kanak rebellion of 1878 against the French and wrote in her memoirs:

The hope for liberty and bread was in the hearts of the Kanaks...the revolt of the tribes was extremely serious, but it is better that I say little about it. The Kanaks were seeking the same liberty we had sought in the Commune. Let me only say that my red scarf, the red scarf of the Commune that I had hidden from every search, was divided in two pieces one night. Two Kanaks, before going to join the insurgents against the whites, had come to say goodbye to me...the Kanak insurrection of 1878 failed. The strength and longing of human hearts was shown once again, but the whites shot down the rebels as we were mowed down in front of the Bastion 37 and on the plains of Satory...

Return to France and Later Life

Michel was eventually granted an amnesty along with many of the other old Communards and returned to France. She didn't stop agitating, later moving briefly to England to set up an anarchist school there which included on its board Malatesta, Kropotkin and legendary English socialist William Morris (the school was shut down by the government shortly after, when an agent-provocateur planted the ingredients for explosives in the school basement).

Her life was a flurry of education, agitation, and writing whenever she could manage it. She railed against the tyranny of the French state (once memorably quipping, "Authority vested in one person is a crime,") and demanded, to use her own words from her memoirs: "Art for all! Bread for all! Science for all!"

Michel believed in the power of technology to create a better, fairer world, and in Magic, technology is generally represented with artifacts. Monumental Corruption's card draw demonstrates the educational potential of technology, and improvise spells like Herald of Anguish, Battle at the Bridge, and Inspiring Statuary suggest improved productivity through technology. Tidy Conclusion shows how technology can improve quality of life, once the hierarchical structures of society are destroyed.

She would be in and out of prison (for various reasons) most of her life, the longest stretch being a six year stretch of solitary confinement after leading a 500-strong riot that took over three bakeries in 1880 chanting "Bread, work, or lead!"

In 1888, a man tried to assassinate her, wounding her with a pistol-shot. Louise Michel intervened on his behalf, preventing the crowd around her from retaliating against her attacker, refusing to give testimony at his trial and spoke gently to him, eventually developing a cautious friendship with her would-be assassin and working hard to prevent him from going to prison.

She was beloved by many of the citizens of Paris; when Louise Michel finally passed out of the world in 1905, her funeral had several thousand mourners, carrying the red and black flags.

Louise Michel's full Commander deck is below!

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  1. Victor Hugo is a fascinating character, not the least because of the sharp contrast in how notable Communards viewed him. He had a thirty-year-long pen pal relationship with Louise Michel that was in-depth and heartfelt, even dedicating a poem, Viro Major, to her while she stood on trial after the Commune. Michel's fellow Communard LaFargue (a rather overlooked theorist in his own right, particularly about the "cult of work") took a rather more acid view of Victor Hugo, publishing sheafs upon sheafs of writing upon the author's death condemning him. To paraphrase one of his more tame attacks on Hugo, LaFargue wrote: "He had the dream situation for an author: for his books to be widely purchased but seldom read."
  2. The guillotine, once heralded as a equalizer and leveler in the earlier French revolutions of the preceding century, had come to be seen as a a clear symbol of state terror. Thusly, it is rejected as a symbol  by many anarchists and libertarian socialists today. This lesson has largely been ignored by authoritarian leftists, Marxist-Leninists, and state socialists the world over, who think that the main problem with the state is that they aren't running it at present, not that it is practically and morally indefensible at core and should be abolished.
  3. Michel notes in her memoirs: "I noticed--I had seen it before and I saw it later--that men, their declarations notwithstanding, although they appeared to help us [women], were always content with just the appearance. This was the result of custom and the force of old prejudices, and it convinced me that we women must simply take our place without begging for it..."
  4. The Paris Commune has been claimed as part of radical history by all possible parties on the left; it's one of the few things we all seem to agree was a good thing that should have lasted longer, but what its strengths and weaknesses were is very much up for debate and it serves as a litmus test for various revolutionary strains of thought. Kropotkin noted that the Commune was not fully anarchist--nor could it have been given how short its lifespan was, writing: "Let us not forget that the bourgeoisie took four years of a revolutionary period to change a limited monarchy into a bourgeois republic and we should not be astonished that the people of Paris did not cross with a single bound the space between the anarchist Commune and the government of robbers." Furthermore, the shadow of the Commune is long--The Internationale was written by Eugene Pottier in the shadow of the defeat of the Commune and that song was adopted by socialists, anarchists, and communists for generations before being ruined by the Bolsheviks, who adopted it as the national anthem of the USSR during their coup and imposition of state capitalism through the course of the Russian revolution.

What Would They Play? is a collaboration between author Charlie Allison and game designer Dan Sibley. The series is part history lesson, part deck-building journal and aims to bring historical figures back to life through the lens of Magic: The Gathering. You can find Dan on Twitter at @VedalkenSamurai and Charlie on the web at www.charlie-allison.com and https://blog.pmpress.org/authors-artists-comrades/charlie-allison/.