Last updated on January 19, 2023

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose - Illustration by Lie Setiawan

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose | Illustration by Lie Setiawan

Of all the Commander colors, black is one of the toughest to pull off. But we love it anyway. A black commander feels story-laden and impactful. My first mono-black commander was Ihsan’s Shade, a card I’d picked up in Homelands and loved the look of.

Those of us who play this game at least partially for story will always be drawn to black decks. If that also describes you, maybe you’ll find your next commander below.

Ready? It’s time to take a look at the best black commanders in Magic!

Why Go with a Black Commander?

Razaketh, the Foulblooded - Illustration by Chris Rallis

Razaketh, the Foulblooded | Illustration by Chris Rallis

Why play a black Commander deck? Because they can be ridiculously fun. Partially because the dark thematic options will make the 12 year old heavy metal lord inside you rock out.

You can get some fast starts with mana rituals, you can get late-game mana power with Cabal Coffers, you have the best suite of tutors in the game, and you can get decent card draw if you’re willing to sacrifice life, creatures, or both.

But your win conditions with black commanders most often come through creatures. You either go wide or tall in simpler decks, or in more complex decks with creature-centered wincons like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and Marionette Master.

While your creature removal and board wipe options are plentiful, black has an infamously weak suite of artifact and enchantment removal. This makes control and combo matchups pretty tough.

#40. Tetzimoc, Primal Death

Tetzimoc, Primal Death

I know the number doesn’t line up with the title. Just trust me on this.

Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate has a sweet new card in it, Campfire. Campfire is a 1-drop artifact that pops Tetzimoc, Primal Death into your hand. And you can destroy everything that’s relevant once your mana is online.

See? Fun! 

#39. Irini Sengir

Irini Sengir

Irini Sengir is from Homelands. Homelands! I think the rule says they have to quit playing Magic if you beat someone with a Homelands commander.

You can have Irini as a backup commander for almost any black deck if your playgroup keeps playing too many enchantress decks, which have become the thing I loathe. Don’t get me wrong, I have three different green and/or white enchantment decks sleeved up right now, but I feel a little dirty playing them, and so should you.

#38. Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

This is more Campfire nonsense, obviously, but Haakon, Stromgald Scourge is a better payoff since black knights are a pretty fun tribe. Plus, you know you want to say:

Tis but a scratch

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

#37. Seizan, Perverter of Truth

Seizan, Perverter of Truth

Getting to the win with Underworld Dreams, Fate Unraveler, Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted, Howling Mine, Megrim, and Peer into the Abyss is the stuff janky dreams are made of.

#36. Iname, Death Aspect

Iname, Death Aspect

Did you know there are enough cards to make black spirit tribal work? Iname, Death Aspect‘s deck kind of wants to be able to power up Mausoleum Secrets and find Mortal Combat and, wait for it, finish them!

And there’s always Living Death and Haunting Voyage if that doesn’t work and you really wanna rumble.

#35. Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Okay, so you strap a bunch of Kaya’s Ghostform things onto Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Or you’ve got a pile of Feign Death or Animate Dead effects in hand. You’ve become a super inefficient blink deck that folds like a cheap suit to Farewell and all those exile effects.

#34. Horobi, Death’s Wail

Horobi, Death's Wail

Horobi, Death’s Wail turns Retribution of the Ancients, Shadow Alley Denizen, Squee’s Toy, and a bunch of otherwise unplayable cards into machine guns. The fun comes when someone tries to bounce their own Gadwick, the Wizened and you remind them that Horobi’s static ability affects all targeting.

Good times.

#33. Phage, the Untouchable

Phage the Untouchable

You can try to get Phage, the Untouchable into your hand, but it’s simpler to stack effects that cancel ETB triggers like Torpor Orb. Or cards that prevent you from losing the game, either straight-up like Stunning Reversal or by ending the turn before Phage’s trigger can go on the stack with Sundial of the Infinite.

This deck isn’t the worst. A bunch of Stifle effects and cards like Platinum Angel can make you pretty resilient. But this still feels like the deck a grizzled Magic boomer pulls out of the bottom of the backpack to impress the kids at their local game store.

#32. Razaketh, the Foulblooded

Razaketh, the Foulblooded

If you want to play a Shadowborn Apostle deck, you could do it old school and run Razaketh in the command zone. But an 8-drop doesn’t play as well as it did five years ago. Which leads us to…

#31. Taborax, Hope’s Demise

Taborax, Hope's Demise

Taborax, Hope’s Demise seems like the most reliable commander option for the Shadowborn Apostle deck. Take just shy of 30 Apostles, drop in a Razaketh, the Foulblooded, a toolbox of demons like Lord of the Void, Archfiend of Depravity, and other cards that sound like Slayer albums from the 80s, and go to town. Razaketh lets you grab Liliana’s Contract along the way, which has to be on your bucket list of ways to win a game of Magic.

Maybe this is a Razaketh, the Foulblooded deck, but Razaketh works best in the 99 with Taborax in the command zone.

#30. Maralen of the Moonsong

Maralen of the Mornsong

Maralen of the Mornsong may be jank, but it’s top level jank that wins if opponents don’t know what’s going on.

You put like 90 Swamps in the deck. Mull to your Dark Ritual or Jeweled Lotus if you can. Then you grab Ad Nauseam. Next turn you cast Ad Nauseam, draw most of your deck including Reliquary Tower, which you play to keep all the cards. Then you ritual your way up to a Skirge Familiar to play a massive Exsanguinate or Torment of Hailfire.

But you’re giving everyone else at the table a free tutor, and there are a few fun ways to answer your combo if they know what to look for. So you either combo off and win in five minutes or get wrecked and lose in five minutes.

#29. Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire

Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire

You’ve got to get Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire onto the battlefield, attack, and protect it long enough to pick up more than one combo piece. Add in some backup tutors and you have a combo deck.

What do you grab? You can get Maralen of the Mornsong and any of its shenanigans or Razaketh, the Foulblooded and live that demon tutoring life. You can also drop in the classic Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond combo.

Let’s be real. If you’re playing this commander you’re probably squeezing all of these in there. And whatever other sick combos I’m not thinking of.

#28. Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

A more streamlined version of the deck above runs Sidisi, Undead Vizier as the commander. You pack fast mana instead of the combat and removal package.

The real kicker is this: this might be the best deck to try the Bolas’s Citadel and Aetherflux Reservoir combo.

#27. Ghoulcaller Gisa

Ghoulcaller Gisa

Ghoulcaller Gisa used to be the best, but I think the days of mono-black zombies are unlikely to rise again in our Dimir () world. Even Gisa has shifted to Dimir with Gisa and Geralf.

#26. Arvinox, the Mind Flail

Arvinox, the Mind Flail

Arvinox, the Mind Flail is a List rebrand of Mind Flayer, the Shadow from Secret Lair X Stranger Things, so people don’t have it. And Gonti still seems the card of choice to play to steal other players’ stuff.

I’d usually rather draw cards from my own deck, curated to synergize toward a goal. But this can be fun in the way red chaos decks can be fun.

#25. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Persist and undying tribal turns out to be pretty resilient to most everything except Farewell. But almost nothing is resilient to that card to be fair. Throw in some zombie tribal synergies while you wait to find your Triskelion or Walking Ballista to go infinite with.

#24. Massacre Girl

Massacre Girl

The Meathook Massacre tribal?

Having a board wipe in the command zone with Massacre Girl creates an interesting political dynamic. If someone gets out to an early lead with, say, Selesnya () tokens, you could turn into everyone else’s temporary best friend. You still need something like Revel in Riches to actually win, but this can be fun. This also might be the best home for mono-black superfriends, but I still don’t think that’s a thing.

It’s not going to be a good night for you with Massacre Girl if no one brought creature decks. But I think this could be a safe choice in the age of creature-heavy precons.

#23. Yahenni, Undying Partisan

Yahenni, Undying Partisan

Yahenni, Undying Partisan wants some sweepers, Reassembling Skeleton-type cards, and Massacre Girl’s win conditions. But it can also be its own pretty wincon for that kind of control deck.

#22. Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion + Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

Rat ninjas are fun, especially the ones from the first Kamigawa block. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni reanimates things from other players’ graveyards while Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion steals their cards.

Their ninjitsu abilities don’t work from the command zone and they leave off the fun Dimir ninjas, both problems solved by the most popular ninja commander, Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. Still, Yuriko feels a bit too powerful sometimes, so mono-black is an option if you need a more mid-level ninja build.

#21. Jerren, Corrupted Bishop / Ormendahl, the Corrupter

There are better ways to manage the “sacrifice creatures, lose life, gain cards, gain life, repeat” structure of black decks, but Jerren, Corrupted Bishop is one of the more flexible versions of that. Plus it looks super janky as a card, so it might be a nice way to camouflage the power of your deck’s engine a bit better than dropping something like Yawgmoth, Thran Physician into the command zone.

#20. Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools + Sengir, the Dark Baron

There are other partners for these commanders, but this seems like the most fun pairing. Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools takes your opponents’ commanders and Sengir, the Dark Baron takes their life.

But replacing Yawgmoth with these cards in the command zone instantly lowers the power and amps up the goofiness of your black sac deck, so they might be nice to have on hand in case you walk into the LGS and everyone is actually opening precon boxes and shuffling them up.

I guess this pairing is better than Jeren if that’s what you’re doing? Maybe?

#19. Timothar, Baron of Bats + Anowon, the Ruin Sage + Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Respect for playing mono-black vampires when there are way more powerful vampire builds in Rakdos () or Mardu (). You gain the ability to more easily play cards with lots of black pips like Necropolis Regent and Vampire Nocturnus, or even Cordial Vampire and Captivating Vampire. And a Drana, Liberator of Malakir deck can be built for go-wide speed.

You may not win, but you’ll get respect from me for playing on hard mode and leaving every version of Edgar Markov behind.

#18. Erebos, God of the Dead

Erebos, God of the Dead

All those mono-black devotion cards from your Gray Merchant of Asphodel decks had to go somewhere, right? It turns out there’s a decent set of options here using heavily-pipped cards like Massacre Wurm and Painful Quandary for various life-drain shenanigans. Erebos, God of the Dead is basically a card draw engine in this deck, using your life gain as you drain to pay to get cards that can close the game.

Look, you’ll probably lose if you can’t get the game out to like turn 15. But if you can get there, you are, like Thanos, inevitable.

#17. Geth, Lord of the Vault + Chainer, Dementia Master

Reanimating creatures from your opponents’ graveyards is cool, but Geth, Lord of the Vault and Chainer, Dementia Master have such high casting and activated ability costs. And you’re asking a lot of your enemies’ graveyards to put you over the top without an on-card wincon.

#16. Gisa, Glorious Resurrector

Gisa, Glorious Resurrector

Gisa, Glorious Resurrector is cheaper and has an automatic resurrection ability. I might still play the two commanders above, but knock yourself out.

#15. Toshiro Umezawa

Toshiro Umezawa

Toshiro Umezawa is the best jank deck in black. It seems like it shouldn’t work, but it often does. New cards like You Are Already Dead and Lethal Scheme really pop here, and just a few hits of cards like Necrologia can really get the engine going.

It’s kind of skill testing and rewards precision, just like the ninja at the head of the deck, so it’s fun to play. The trouble is that it loves a midrange game where everyone has, like, five creatures out. I don’t see those kinds of games as much as I did five years ago, so it’s possible the game has gotten too fast for Umezawa.

#14. King Macar, the Gold-Cursed

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed

You can either build this as a card draw plus Treasure machine looking to win with Disciple of the Vault, Marionette Master, and Revel in Riches, or you can lean into the tapping and untapping thing using your artifact synergies.

You can give King Macar, the Gold-Cursed equipment that taps it without having to attack. Then you can make it into an artifact with cards like Liquimetal Torque because there are a lot more untap artifact effects, like every card that starts with “Voltaic.”

This deck is a little fragile and janky, but King Macar’s stock keeps going up as more and more cards get indestructible.

#13. Syr Konrad, the Grim + Balthor the Defiled + Sheoldred, Whispering One

These mill/dredge commanders can be fun, and they have some new tools in Angel of Suffering and Cemetery Tampering. These decks win with reanimation since your graveyard’s always got so much stuff. Single cards like Dread Return are good, but of course Rise of the Dark Realms is even better. 

How do you choose a commander?

#12. Liliana, Heretical Healer / Liliana, Defiant Necromancer

See above, but add that you can just play Liliana, Heretical Healer as Liliana planeswalker tribal with a nice zombie subtheme. 

Is that good? 

Hard to say. Milling a bunch of planeswalkers kind of sucks, so you’d rather play this as a grindy control deck that can also reanimate a few juicy things as needed while opponents are distracted with your Liliana, Dreadhorde General

#11. Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker

Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker

Virus Beetle. Dusk Legion Zealot. Abyssal Gatekeeper. Clattering Augur. Sling-Gang Lieutenant. Blood Artist. You get the drift.

Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker is the best budget commander on the list. Cheap cards with fun ETBs can all stack together to generate value. And being able to grab a bunch of nonsense from storage boxes to make a deck that can win is pretty fun.

#10. Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon

Sorry, folks. Infect is good.

#9. Ayara, First of Locthwain

Ayara, First of Locthwain

Drain the table while drawing cards. That works, yes?

Tenacious Underdog is a new favorite at the Ayara, First of Locthwain castle, along with Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder and Army of the Damned. A Morbid Opportunist here, a Blood Artist there, and you’ve got a deck.

#8. Mari, the Killing Quill

Mari, the Killing Quill

This New Capenna Commander card has yet to see much play, but my prediction is that Mari, the Killing Quill will soon become a top five mono-black commander. There are so many cheap rogues and assassins in black, and a lot of them tap to destroy other creatures or have deathtouch even before Mari hits the table. And your opponents will be forced to decide whether to block an army of deathtouchers or let you draw cards and make Treasures when this card is down.

Someone wipes the board? You’re running low to the ground and just drew four cards. The awesome thing is that you don’t even have to protect Mari all that much. Its exile ability still goes off in a board wipe situation. Your critters can start the chain when you drop it again.

But the real kicker is that this card’s passive ability kind of shuts down graveyard reanimation strategies, which is pretty wicked. Even if someone’s thwarting your plan A.

Wincons outside of typical black combo pieces, especially the Revel in Riches and Marionette Master pieces to take advantage of those Treasures, are a bit lacking in Mari’s supported tribes. But this deck might honestly be the fastest way to pump out some of the other powerful commanders in this tier if you stick a few in this card’s 99.

#7. Tinybones, Trinket Thief

Tinybones, Trinket Thief

Sorry, folks, discard is good. I mean, usually not in Commander, but Tinybones, Trinket Thief can get the job done when you can stack on card draw and get some late game inevitability. Especially when paired with some drain and gain combo cards.

#6. Tergrid, God of Fright / Tergrid’s Lantern

Again, discard is good with Tergrid, God of Fright. When you can just start taking stuff your opponents discard, add Edicts and take stuff they sacrifice, even a simple card like Smallpox can end games. Tergrid even nabs your sagas after their last chapter!

The most likely commander on this list to be banned, Tergrid isn’t fun to play against. But it’ll win a lot of games for you.

#5. Marrow-Gnawer

Marrow-Gnawer

Rat Colony and some friends. You can get cute with Marrow-Gnawer and play a more straightforward rat tribal. But you can also just hammer down, add an Echoing Return, and bash face.

#4. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

The ultimate drain and gain commander. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose combos with Exquisite Blood all on its own. You know how this deck works. The more tools like Veinwitch Coven they print, the better it gets. 

#3. Vilis, Broker of Blood

Vilis, Broker of Blood

Vilis, Broker of Blood is super powerful. Stack the deck with spells that lose life and add in spells that gain life to stay alive and survive the inevitable Bolas’s Citadel you’ll find while powering through your deck. The typical win conditions are Exsanguinate and other big drain effects.

All you need to get there is a ton of mana fast enough to drop your commander. And black can be pretty good at that, I hear. Vilis can often win the game the turn it comes down, so the trick is to live that long. That’s where cards like Toxic Deluge and Snuff Out thrive.

#2. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician does everything your aristocrats commanders do, but better. It combos off on its own with a Blood Artist, Butcher Ghoul, and a card that makes a token when a creature dies, including Nest of Scarabs, Pawn of Ulamog, and Sifter of Skulls.

As with Vilis, fast mana is the name of the game. Yawgmoth doesn’t draw cards quite as efficiently as Vilis does, but it’s easier to get onto the battlefield and can start doing crazy things pretty quickly. So it’s a better choice from a cEDH perspective.

#1. K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth

K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth

The most popular black commander on EDHREC is also the most powerful. Even faster than Yawgmoth, K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is also more flexible if you can find the combo pieces since it can gain and lose life basically at will. It lacks Yawgmoth’s draw ability, but why draw when you can play all the tutors and cast most of them for one or two with a loss of life attached?

cEDH decks optimized around the tutors plan with enough things like Lion’s Eye Diamond can win on turn one.

Commanding Conclusion

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician - Illustration by Mark Winters

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician | Illustration by Mark Winters

That was a lot! I kind of feel like I’ve just survived a death metal concert. Ears ringing. Sore neck. A few mosh bruises.

Mono-color legends are often the places where Wizards mainlines the key attributes of a color in the color pie, and this is absolutely true of black. Sacrifice creatures and life for cards, destruction, and life loss. Sometimes that’s the kind of deck you need to play at the end of a tough week. And we’ve all had a lot of tough weeks lately, haven’t we?

What’s your favorite black commander? Did I miss your favorite, or overvalue something you think is total trash? Let me know in the comments below or discuss over in the Draftsim Discord.

At their best, these mono-black decks let us take the edge off. And I think we all should have at least one sleeved up when headbanging is on the menu. Stay safe out there!

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1 Comment

  • Avatar
    medvedev June 6, 2022 8:33 am

    Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed is a pretty good one.

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