DeathrenderToday I’m going to share a brew that has been bubbling since Lorwyn was in Standard. The truth is that the original idea for the deck came from one of Mark Gottlieb’s articles on the old website (now,) which, I might add, is still a wonderful place to find information on every aspect of our fine game.


Deathrender. Take a minute to just look at it. Frankly, I think that they added the +2/+2 onto this card just because they needed a reason to increase the mana and equip costs. There’s no way this could be printed at less than the costs printed, and the list I share today illustrates exactly why. I’ve been adding bits and pieces to the deck for years, and here’s my list as it currently stands.



4 Mortician Beetle
3 Death’s Shadow
4 Blood Artist
2 Varolz, the Scar Striped
4 Gravedigger
2 Desecrator Hag
2 Dimir House Guard


4 Deathrender
2 Spawning Pit
4 Gutter Grime
2 Dictate of Erebos
2 Devour Flesh
2 Hero’s Downfall


13 Swamp
5 Forest
4 Jungle Hollow
1 Grim Backwoods

Once again, we see a simple mana base, which you can flavor to taste. I don’t generally play expensive lands in decks that I don’t intend to play in tournaments.

Now, it’s been suggested that this combo could work well in Modern, and with the banning of Splinter Twin, that may be the case. There is certainly room in my list for powerful and expensive (in money terms) additions such as Tarmogoyf and Abrupt Decay. My concern is that the centerpiece combo requires multiple permanents that cost exactly 4 mana to cast, and that whatever my build looks like, it won’t be as fast as the Infect and Affinity decks of the world. The right removal suite might make it work, but that’s going to be very metagame dependent.

Just to make sure we are all on the same page, the combo I am referring to is Deathrender attached to any creature, with at least one Gravedigger (or Desecrator Hag) in hand, and another Gravedigger either also in hand, or in the graveyard, or on the battlefield with the Deathrender attached.

If you have a permanent that lets you sacrifice a creature with no other cost, such as Spawning Pit, Dimir House Guard, or Varolz, the Scar Striped, you can sacrifice infinite creatures. (Example: sacrifice Gravedigger with Deathrender equipped, to Varolz. Deathrender triggers, puts Gravedigger on the battlefield from your hand with itself attached to the new Gravedigger, and the new Gravedigger returns the one you just sacrificed to your hand. Repeat.)

Once nice thing to note is that while Dimir House Guard is a piece of the combo as a sacrifice outlet, it can also tutor for any other piece of the combo, if you already have a way to sacrifice creatures like Spawning Pit or Varolz. Unfortunately, there are no four cost cards in the deck that will actually kill your opponent once the combo is online.

Which of course leads into the next step; this alone isn’t going to do much except make it very hard to kill your Varolz, or Dimir House Guard, or put an absurd number of counters on Spawning Pit. And remember that Spawning Pit requires 1 mana for each 2/2 creature it makes, so while that is a bargain, it doesn’t just win the game, especially if you just tapped out to get your engine online. So, we have essentially infinite creatures to sacrifice. What are you gonna do about it?

Well, if at some point earlier in the game, you happened to play Mortician Beetle, an uninformed opponent might have chuckled and let it live. After all, what harm can a 1/1 do, right? They’ll soon develop a respect for insects when yours attacks for a couple million points of damage. Gutter Grime pulls off a similar trick, although it makes a lot of very large creatures, which justifies the 5 converted mana cost and the green in the deck. Blood Artist (substitute or add Zulaport Cutthroat to taste,) just automatically wins the game once you start sacrificing a few hundred creatures per turn, and Dictate of Erebos can ensure that your opponent never has a creature again, if you can live long enough to exploit the infinite loop.

Now, this deck does not generally play beatdown well, at least, not until it has an infinitely large threat or threats to beatdown with. Death’s Shadow offers an alternative. Or rather, Death’s Shadow plus Varolz, the Scar Striped offers an alternative. I like alternatives.

Don’t get me wrong, Death’s Shadow is a terrible one-drop, and there’s no way you are beating the faster beatdown decks in a race with the kind of help it offers. Death’s Shadow lends itself to two specific scenarios. The first is the one where your opponent has been hitting your life total, maybe with a large ‘goyf or flipped delver, and it’s a nice 6/6 or 7/7 for B. Those are games you are probably losing, and you should feel proud that you got such value out of your one drop. Just remember to be gracious in defeat.

The second and better scenario is when you have Varolz, the Scar Striped on the battlefield. Then, it becomes a matter of step one, get the Death’s Shadow in the graveyard, step two pay a single B to put 13(!) +1/+1 counters on a creature. Step three, throw those counters onto Varolz and suddenly we’re talking Emrakul sized chunks of damage, all as early as turn 4! The play when Death’s Shadow is in your hand is not intuitive, because you usually don’t want to play creatures that have to be sacrificed immediately, but if you are at 13 or more life, you can cast Death’s Shadow, and it will immediately be sacrificed since it has 0 or less toughness. This will not only set up Varolz to Scavenge up a healthy number of counters, but if you happen to have any Mortician Beetles or Gutter Grimes, it will trigger them too.

That’s all for now. If you have questions or would like to send me a deck list to write about, feel free to contact me at

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