Last updated on March 8, 2023
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph | Illustration by Aaron J. Riley
The Day of Ascension has come, neophyte! Join your Genestealer-y brethren in the cult uprising led by Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph!
Prepare for the coming of the Hive Fleet by cleansing your local EDH pod of all dissenters with this spell-slinging, rapid-fire Commander!
Prodigal Pyromancer | Illustration by Jeremy Jarvis
Syr Carah, the Bold
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph appears to be the best commander for an exclusively “pingers” deck at first glance. While this is true, a focused Ghyrson Starn deck scrapes away the chaff and favors instants and sorceries to synergize with the best pingers.
I’ve made specific choices in this deck’s noncreature slots to get the most value out of the most valuable pingers. Those one-damage pips will become three-damage bolts and burn foes into submission!
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph was released as one of the Warhammer 40k commanders, and it’s based on a named character from that universe. He’s a specialist amongst the Genestealer Cults, the alien-worshiping mutant saboteurs bent on preparing their host worlds for devourment by the Tyranids. Ghyrson’s mutations have given him three arms, perfect for dealing three damage whereas another would only deal one.
Ghyrson’s damage-amplification ability is the star of the show, but its ward 2 keeps the deck online. Cards like Swiftfoot Boots are basically required to even play Commander, so having some built-in protection can’t be overrated.
These creatures are your bread and butter. There are tons of pingers to choose from, but this deck opts for only the best and most synergistic ones. It includes a few of the classic pingers to get the deck started.
Goblin Fireslinger is the cheapest creature with the tap-to-deal-a-damage ability.
Izzet Staticaster is a fair 3-mana pinger that’s situationally very effective. It’s only really useful against token decks in a Singleton format, but those instances when it’s effective are priceless.
You shouldn’t run a pingers deck without the two biggest baddest ones: Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind! These two throw down tons of damage and draw mountains of cards, and they’re two of only three large creatures in this deck.
There are three honorary pingers without an activated ability. Scorch Spitter and Goblin Javelineer are 1/1s that deal one damage to a creature assigned to block it. Ghyrson Starn turns that one into three, and it turns their one power into three damage in combat.
These two are low to the ground and cheap. Because of that a lot of opponents won’t waste removal on them until they’ve more than made back their value in mana.
Looter il-Kor is an effectively unblockable 1/1 (which Ghyrson makes into three damage) that loots you a card when it connects. Your Looter basically becomes a repeatable draw effect with a Lightning Bolt on top.
Your pinging creatures let you spread targeted bolts around the field, but you’ll also make use of passive damagers.
Rounding out this section is Dismiss into Dream, a unique ability that turns your opponents’ creatures into illusions. This is the perfect removal for those huge indestructible (or otherwise too-tough-for-bolts) creatures.
Spells like Electrolyze, Magic Missile, and Dual Shot become incredibly valuable under Ghyrson. You’re obligated to spread those spells’ damage around their maximum number of targets to turn them into bolts, but ultimately this results in triple the initial damage.
A single broadside from your board of pingers usually won’t be enough to end the game, but what about two broadsides?
Dramatic Reversal is the ultimate untapper and will often be the target of your Solve the Equation. You can perpetually untap your nonland permanents and blast the pod into the ground combined with Isochron Scepter and a few mana rocks.
Without access to green you’ll need to be conscious of your mana base choices. You can’t afford to miss a land drop, so this deck runs a precon-level 35 (36 including the Spikefield Hazard) lands. About two-thirds of the mana pips are red, so the spread is 15 Mountains to 10 Islands plus some obligatory multicolor lands.
This deck also runs three mana rocks with the mandatory the Sol Ring. Firemind Vessel and the two Izzet () rocks help you keep pace with the rest of the pod and give you access to nonland mana in case you come across your Isochron Scepter.
The game plan here is to rush to get Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph on the field and then keep creatures off the board until you can rack up a huge broadside to burn your way to victory.
Don’t worry about keeping a hand with a ton of lands. You can’t afford to miss a land drop without easy access to ramp. You won’t do much in the early game. Your cheap pingers won’t be much of a threat without Ghyrson, but you can pop the odd crack shot at a Viscera Seer or Blood Artist (or even a mana dork, if you’re feeling evil).
You need your commander on the field on turn 3 or 4. Its ward 2 ability will keep it safe, at least for a few turns, and it should arrive to a field of two or three pingers. Casting Ghyrson at the top of the turn lets you immediately bolt each opponent or delete an early threat. Recovering from a board wipe with Ghyrson is tough, and you’ll want to save your Counterspells and the like exclusively for stuff that messes with your board.
Ending the game with Ghyrson should come as a surprise. Avoid dropping your hand of instants and sorceries until you need to. Save your Grapeshot for a turn you can combine it with Gelectrode. It’s worth infinitely more than a few potshot bolts here and there throughout the turn.
The trick is to unload on your opponents with five or six pingers simultaneously. Untap them with Dramatic Reversal or Intellectual Offering, launch another volley, keep damage going with cheap Needle Drops and Dual Shots, untap your Gelectrode and Thermo-Alchemist for more damage, reload with Past in Flames, and then Grapeshot and just keep the damage coming. (Smash Mouth voice: The bolts start coming, and they don’t stop coming.)
Absent all that, you can just opt for one of the infinite combos.
There are a handful of infinite or near-infinite combos that this deck can use to win.
The first and most classic is Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and either Curiosity or Ophidian Eye. With one of these on the Firemind tap Niv to draw a card, deal one damage to an opponent with its triggered ability, and draw a card with the aura's triggered ability.
This lets you deal near infinite damage to an opponent. You can stop the combo by dealing one damage to a creature or yourself.
The second grants infinite untaps. Dramatic Reversal exiled with Isochron Scepter and access to at least two mana from a nonland source allows you to infinitely untap your permanents. Normally you’d need at least one more nonland mana to net the infinite mana this combo is typically used for, but in your case you can just use it to Prodigal Pyromancer your opponents to death.
Sometimes players just prefer a heads-up that the deck includes the combo, but sometimes you’ll be asked to play something else. I recommend pulling the Firemind and the Scepter for a couple more burn spells and calling it good.
The cheapest cost for this deck’s singles comes to around $210. That’s a little above average for a Commander deck, so here are some budget options.
Goblin Sharpshooter is the most expensive card in the deck at over $20. It’s one of (if not the) best pingers in the game, but you can easily cut costs by swapping it for Prodigal Sorcerer or Flames of the Firebrand.
Your other cash sink is Isochron Scepter. If you want to move away from the infinite combos then you can replace this with Niv-Mizzet, Parun and double down on direct damage rather than infinite combos.
A lot of the pingers and single-damage spells are fairly cheap, so you can afford to spend a little more on essentials for this deck. You’re missing some hard-hitting instants and sorceries like Cyclonic Rift and Fierce Guardianship.
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph doesn’t need to be built as a pingers deck. There’s a ton you can do with its single-damage theme.
My next build for this commander will revolve around 1-power unblockable creatures like Infiltrator il-Kor to sneak damage directly to opponents. In a similar vein some have crafted goblin tribal decks around Ghyrson, turning their wave of 1/1 Goblin tokens into a real threat.
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius | Illustration by Todd Lockwood
I originally avoided the Warhammer 40k commanders like the plague. I wasn’t convinced they kept thematically with the flavor and crunch of the tabletop wargame, but I’m happy to say this Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph Commander deck has broken through my callousness.
This a deck that really feels like you’ve snuck a squad of lightly armed infiltrators behind enemy lines and proceed to wreak havoc in their ranks. It advances under covering fire bit by bit until it’s ready to unleash a furious barrage of lightning bolts, fireballs, and bullets.
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