I recently played my first game of Pandemic, and it was a blast. You work with the other players in the game to cure diseases that are spreading around the globe, all while trying to limit the outbreaks. The game involves planning and working together to come up with the best solutions to the current problems, all while anticipating what comes next.
The reason I mention it here is a piece of elegance with one of the decks in the game. There is a point in the game when a new city is hit with an outbreak. The game doesn't want you to shuffle the deck with all the city cards in it because you are stacking the top of the deck to ramp up the pressure on the players. Instead, you simply draw the card from the bottom of the deck! An elegant solution that I didn't really appreciate until we were almost through our first game.
This reminded me of Grenzo, Dungeon Warden, a creature I'd been wanting to build a Commander deck around for a while. His unique ability makes for a curious set of deckbuilding restrictions, so I thought I would share my build with you today!
Grenzo is a corrupt warden who can be bought off. If you pay him two mana, he'll release prisoners from the back door of the prison, also known as the bottom of your library. The trick is to load the bottom of your library with creatures that have a power equal to or less than Grenzo's power – then only have to pay two colorless mana for the big, expensive creatures in your deck! You should be able to get out in front early, and in the late game, you could be putting three to six creatures into play regularly! Grenzo practically gives all your creatures flash as well, since you can pay the two mana at any time. If you aren't under pressure, you can use Grenzo at the end of your last opponent's turn, surprising everyone with a big creature that can attack right away! So what are the things to keep in mind while building with Grenzo?
When you flip the bottom card of your library over, if it isn't a creature, the card just ends up in your graveyard. You spent two mana to stick a card in your graveyard. Unless you plan to run a different sort of theme with Grenzo, that isn't particularly exciting. While your deck needs lands to cast Grenzo and activate his ability, you are going to want to have a particularly good reason to include other card types in your deck. When I'm looking at cards to ramp my mana, draw cards, deal with permanents, and the other things Commander decks need to do, I'm going to be looking for creatures that can do that. Another way to limit the number of blank flips is to stack the bottom of the deck. Cards that send other cards to the bottom of decks become particularly useful here. If I have a way to send a useful creature to the bottom of my library when I need it, Grenzo can become a toolbox, giving me what I need whenever I need it.
The downside here involves shuffling. Any card that forces you to shuffle your library leaves you wondering what the new card at the bottom of your library is. This just isn't helpful, so you are going to want to limit your shuffling effects. Limit your tutoring effects and lands that sacrifice to search for another land aren't all that great in this deck.
I really like the idea of getting a huge creature like Purphoros, God of the Forge for only two mana, but it means that Grenzo needs to have at least six power to make that happen. This involves mana and lots of it. The first time you cast Grenzo, it is easy. Just make X equal four mana and you are good to go. It is the second, third, and fourth time that you cast Grenzo when things start to get difficult. The commander tax can really limit how big Grenzo can be.
Add on to this the activation cost.
You aren't going to want to spend every mana you have to cast Grenzo, only to have him sit there for a full round on the battlefield unable to do anything. This means you are going to want to have at least two extra mana available to use if Grenzo is targeted by your vindictive opponents who don't understand how much fun Grenzo can be! All of this means that mana ramp is important to this deck.
The whole point of jumping through all these hoops is to cast big fattie boom booms at instant speed for only two mana! Kozilek, Ulamog, and Emrakul are all waiting to blast onto the battlefield for two mana! Leviathans and Krakens and…
First off, Grenzo puts creatures on to the battlefield, he doesn't cast them, so creatures that give a benefit when you cast them are out (goodbye Eldrazi!). Secondly, creatures with high power and toughness demand that Grenzo be huge to actually cast them. Leviathans and Krakens are cute, but also out.
The kind of creatures you are looking for having smaller power stats but do a ton elsewhere. Look at Ob Nixilis, Unshackled. Ob is only a 4/4 creature, but he flies, so he does a ton of damage. Most importantly, he stops opponents from searching their libraries. Since you aren't going to be searching your library, they shouldn't do it either, right? Cryptborn Horror is another interesting option. Grenzo's activated ability would see a 0/0 creature, so it can come in no matter how big Grenzo is! The only limit is the amount of life your opponents have lost that turn. Triskelavus and Triskelion are two other creatures that Grenzo really likes.
Another option is something like Hellkite Charger. In a normal deck, you are paying six mana to cast the Charger, so you don't likely have another seven to untap all your creatures and attack again. With Grenzo, you can cast the Charger on an opponent's end step, effectively avoiding the casting cost entirely! The five power isn't tiny but it is certainly doable.
Rather than list off every card I included in the deck, I thought I'd give you a few of the highlights, then wrap up with the list.
The best option is to consider the creatures you are excited to run with Grenzo and set a cap on the power. A little basic math forced me to cap the power on creatures at six. If Grenzo needs to be at six and I want two mana left to activate him – and he has died once already – suddenly I need 10 mana to play him. While I can get to that level of mana, and I have other ways to pump up Grenzo (more on that in a minute), I don't really want to push it too hard. Besides, if it is costing more to bring creatures into play with Grenzo than it would to just cast them, you have to ask why you are doing it.
Kaervek the Merciless and Sire of Insanity both seemed like great options. Forcing opponents to play off the top of their library and then making them pay when they cast things only seems fair!
Mad Auntie, Paragon of Open Graves and Banshee's Blade all pump Grenzo's power, meaning you have to spend less mana to still get the creatures you want. I've also included Heartstone here as it cuts the activation cost in half. Mad Auntie also has the benefit of protecting Grenzo.
One of the best ways to stack the bottom of the library is with scry. Look at the card, and if it is a creature Grenzo can work with, send it to the bottom of the library! The downside here is that Viscera Seer is the only creature in the bunch, so the number of non-creature permanents is climbing. Seer's Lantern, Crystal Ball and Shadows of the Past are some of my favorites.
Initially I saw this as a way to supplement the cards coming from the library, then realized how useful these cards were. Any way to get cards from the graveyard to the bottom of the library were cards that effectively let me find the card I need and play it. For example, if I need to kill a creature and Noxious Gearhulk is in my graveyard, I simply activate Junktroller and move the Gearhulk to the bottom of my library. Add in a sacrifice outlet and watch your value increase!
I only found five of these cards, but they are invaluable. Epitaph Golem allows multiple uses in a turn, while Canal Dredger was a card I was sure I would never use outside of a Conspiracy draft!
Make sure Grenzo is at least a 3/3 in the early game. You don't mind losing your big creatures into your graveyard early on. It just means they'll be there when you need them later. What you don't want to lose are the ways to get cards from your graveyard to the bottom of your deck. Epitaph Golem is a 3/5 creature and you don't want to risk the Golem in your graveyard in the early game. These cards are absolutely key with this deck, so tread carefully until you are set up.
Everything else is pretty much what you would expect. You want some mass removal spells, direct removal spells, ways to deal with artifacts and enchantments, plenty of creatures that tap for mana, and a few other surprises. I've played a couple of games with the deck, but not enough to suggest any fine-tuning. I wouldn't try and build a toolbox deck in the hope of recurring cards again and again from the graveyard, because there are times when that just isn't going to work, but so far, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden has held the keys to plenty of fun!