For years I’ve been treating Artisan* Commander as a deck-building restriction. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of putting together a list that can hold its own at the table without using any rare or mythic rare cards. Recently, however, I learned that Artisan Commander has become a whole sub-format, complete with its own website and Discord server.

It’s great that more people are exploring this format, and I love to see how others approach it. It’s particularly fascinating to learn how an all-Artisan metagame impacts card choices and game play, since my friends prefer to stick to their higher rarities. For instance, an all-Artisan table doesn’t have to worry about Cyclonic Rift and Wrath of God, but it should be mindful of Aetherize and Massacre. This means utility creatures that stay out of combat are generally safer, and anything with toughness three or greater can survive most of the format’s mass removal.

This new-found perspective inspired me, and I’ve already got a bunch of new ideas floating through my head. More importantly, it encouraged me to actually take the time and build one of the decks I’ve been mulling over:

Death’s Peasants

Artisan Commander

Deck by Ben Iverach-Brereton

Like most decks, this list started with the commander and expanded from there. Shessra, Death’s Whisper gets a lot of her value from creatures dying. With a large enough attacker, or one with deathtouch, she can also act as a pseudo removal spell on the turn she enters play. I tried to keep these two concepts in mind as I picked out cards. I gradually moved toward an Aristocrats style of deck, but put a greater emphasis on the combat phase than I usually would for that archetype.

The Classics

It’s old news by now, but Viscera Seer and Carrion Feeder are two of the best sacrifice outlets in the game. Their low casting cost and manaless activated abilities make them ideal when you’re just looking for a way to toss your creatures in the bin. Viscera Seer also helps you filter your draws, and Carrion Feeder can grow into quite the threat, but those benefits are largely secondary. Sacrifice outlets like these enable the rest of the deck to function.

The other half of any Aristocrats deck are its death triggers. Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat have quite the reputation, and for good reason; these creatures have the potential to steal a lot of games at very little cost. Even if they aren’t winning outright, the amount of chip damage they accumulate is far more than most people expect for two mana. These days there are plenty of cards with this kind of effect, and while it’s tempting to fill the deck to the brim with cards that drain your opponents with every casualty, I’d rather save that exercise for a deck based around Syr Konrad, the Grim, Juri, Master of the Revue or (if it’s not Artisan) Judith, the Scourge Diva.

Other Payoffs

Draining people out is an effective win condition, but it’s not the only way to end a game. Making a giant creature and swinging in will do the job just as well. Scavenger Drake, Bloodbriar and Ravenous Squirrel can get pretty big pretty quickly, and with the assistance of Retreat to Kazandu or Ivy Lane Denizen you could even go toe-to-toe with the titans… if Eldrazi had toes, that is.

There’s a temptation to include Scurry Oak or Herd Baloth to go infinite with Ivy Lane Denizen, but I’m not keen to do that; I’ve touched on it before, but I find two-card combos anticlimactic, and if there’s one in my deck I can’t help but fixate on it ⁠— either I’m actively trying to put it together, or I’m consciously avoiding it. That’s not to say I don’t like infinite combos, I just prefer the ones that require a bit more setup. Some day I might build a deck filled to the gills with as many quick and easy combos as possible (I suspect it’ll use Grumgully, the Generous), but unlike my other lists, assembling those combos will be the whole point.

Technically, I can already go infinite with this deck using Sorcerer’s Broom, Ashnod’s Altar and Pitiless Plunderer, but you’re far less likely to accidentally put together a three card combo and end the game. Plus, it needs a fourth card to actually do anything productive, so it’s mostly harmless. This is one of those instances where each piece of the puzzle was added because it worked with the rest of the deck, and it wasn’t until later that I realized they worked together the way that they did. If I ever win a game with the combo it’ll be a novelty, not something that’ll happen often enough to overshadow the deck’s normal game plan, or consistent enough that I’ll be thinking about it all the time.

Not Just Creatures

When I was playing with my Historic Treasures deck, I learned that Ravenous Squirrel works really well with alongside treasure tokens. When picking out cards to include, I knew immediately that Squirrel was going to make the cut, and it got me thinking about all the noncreature permanents I could be sacrificing. I didn’t have access to Mayhem Devil as a payoff in these colours, but Bloodbriar and Sorcerer’s Broom could help to fill that void.

Bloodbriar in particular has been one of those cards I’ve wanted to make work for ages, but it never quite got there. If it could find a home here, I would be delighted. Treasure tokens, Evolving Wilds, Harrow…. All things considered, it looked promising. But what else could I include to support this plant elemental?

Food, Treasure and Clues

Food tokens. Delicious.

It’s been fascinating to see the rise of noncreature tokens in recent years. Clues, Food, Treasure and most recently Blood present a lot of new opportunities, and breathe new life into old cards like Bloodbriar.

It’s no secret that Tireless Provisioner provides some amazing value. A landfall trigger that generates a treasure is a great way to get ahead; it’s not quite mana doubling, but for an Artisan deck it gets pretty close. The fact that we can always opt to make food instead is just gravy (heh). It’s good enough all by itself, but for a deck looking for a steady flow of permanents to sacrifice, it’s even better.

As for Fae Offering, I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to trigger. Setting up to cast a creature on the same turn as this enchantment gives you an immediate influx of artifacts, and between the clues and treasure, it does a good job of fueling itself on subsequent turns. Pairing it with a Ravenous Squirrel or Skullport Merchant even lets you eat that food for card draw! The real kicker, however, is dropping Fae Offering beside a Woodland Champion; that elf will get very big very quickly.

(All these artifact tokens almost make me want to run Glimmer Bairn. Or Extruder. Almost.)

I’ll admit that in addition to fueling Bloodbriar, all this food is actually an excuse to include Savvy Hunter in the list. This card is sweet, but needs some support to be really effective. It’s another one of those orphan cards I’ve wanted to use but could never quite make fit. I saw an opportunity here, though, and took it. This also means I’m running a bunch of other weird cards to bolster it, like Wolf’s Quarry. It’s possible this is a terrible idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the deck will need a massive overhaul at some point in the future, but for now it’s fun to try out these forgotten Draft cards. Now if only I could find my copy of Witch’s Oven to round things out…

How Alluring

To make room for all this nonsense, I ended up skimping on traditional removal spells. Again, this could be a mistake, but to compensate for it I’ve taken up a “rattlesnake” approach to this deck: I’m running a fair number of deathtouch creatures, and as previously mentioned, I have some creatures that can grow to be quite large. It’s surprising how few blockers you actually need in order to discourage your opponents from attacking you, provided they’re deadly enough. And if your opponents end up attacking each other instead, a density of removal spells become less critical.

I could have opted for a Ravenous Chupacabra or Bone Shredder to help with my removal problems, and honestly they would fit into this list nicely, but I ultimately decided against their inclusion. I use these murderous creatures to great effect in my other Artisan decks (especially in my recent Firja deck), and I felt like using them here would feel repetitive.

I ultimately decided to lean into Shessra’s Bewitching Whispers ability, and looked for similar lure effects. This strategy would pair well with the deathtouch creatures I was already using, as well as my ever-growing threats, though the plan is admittedly imperfect. Between combat tricks, opposing removal and a myriad of other issues, forced blocks don’t always get the job done. Depending on the board state, Deadly Allure could act like a Murder with flashback, or it could end up being a waste of mana.

I do have one other trick up my sleeve: Skirsdag Flayer. It’s a bit slow and fragile, but if I can get it online it will do a lot of work. I will need to feed it a lot of humans, but thankfully Shessra, Death’s Whisper fits that bill with her half-elf blood. Sacrificing her could get expensive, but at least recasting her gives me a second use of Bewtiching Whispers. There’s some upside to that.

With Skirsdag Flayer in the list I could have gone really deep with human tribal synergies, but I felt like that would pull me in too many directions. Besides, I covered a lot of that ground recently with Syr Faren. Ultimately, the human subtype mostly acted as a tie breaker when I couldn’t decide between two cards.

I’m sounding a bit like a broken record at this point, but I realize that Skirsdag Flayer probably isn’t the most optimal choice for this deck. Nevertheless, I have a real soft spot for this evil cleric. It was one of the first cards I ever tried to build around, and featured prominently in my “Sacrificing Your Neighbours For Fun And Profit” Standard deck when Dark Ascension came out. It was a white/black tokens deck with Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble that I built shortly before the term “Aristocrats” really caught on. Using the Flayer again feels very nostalgic, even if it ends up being bad.


One of the strengths of Shessra, Death’s Whisper is the card advantage she generates over time. She’s not the only draw engine in these colours, though, and the more value we can grind out of dying creatures, the better. Deathreap Ritual has a very similar effect, but can trigger on every turn. Morbid Opportunist is even better though, since you get the card right away. The Opportunist also works during the end step; it’s important to remember that if something dies that late in the turn, Shessra, Death’s Whisper and Deathreap Ritual won’t actually trigger, so it’s important to time your sacrifices and removal accordingly. Second main phase here we come!

Of course, all of those triggers are limited to once a turn, and that can be a bit slow. Moldervine Reclamation proved its worth several times over in Core 2020 Limited, and it’s sure to do a lot of work here too. Unlike a lot of similar effects, Moldervine Reclamation triggers off of anything you control dying, including creature tokens, which means it can easily grind something like an Underworld Hermit into a full, fresh hand of cards. Plus, to top it all off, it gains you life, which can be surprsingly useful. Shessra drains you a little bit each turn with her Whispers of the Grave, so little effects like this can add up and keep you in the game a lot longer.

Ulvenwald Mysteries may not seem as strong as Moldervine Reclamation by comparison (because it generally isn’t). Even so, its lower casting cost and the human tokens it produces are nothing to sneeze at. I’ve been a fan of this card for a long time, and it never disappoints. There’s an argument for trying to fit Fecundity into this list instead, and if I had a spare one I’d consider it, but ultimately I’m happy with the Mysteries; I suspect my opponents would end up drawing more cards from a Fecundity than I would anyway.

But Is It Effective?

With the state of the world being what it is, I still haven’t had a chance to try this deck in a proper game. It remains to be seen how well it’ll work, but I’m excited to try it. It has a lot of synergy and card advantage, which is promising, though I’ll admit that its limited interaction has me worried.

It may be that this deck is too “cute” for its own good; I’ve added a lot of pet cards, which might be getting in the way of better options. I hope not, but I’ll understand if I have to take some of them out so the deck can function.

Fingers crossed!

*a note regarding nomenclature:
Once upon a time, decks made exclusively out of commons and uncommons were loosely known as “Peasant” decks. Peasant was a fan-made format on Magic Online that was largely an offshoot of Pauper; it allowed uncommons to be used, but players were limited to a certain amount of them per their deck. The added complexity didn’t do the format any favours, and it never gained much traction.

Years later, Magic Arena introduced the Artisan format. This was similar to Peasant in that it only used commons and uncommons, but it removed the uncommon card limit. The Artisan format itself used the Standard card pool, but several variations soon popped up, such as Historic Artisan and Artisan Brawl. These days, “Artisan” has replaced “Peasant” as the go-to term for “commons and uncommons only,” just like “Pauper” has come to mean “only commons.”

All this makes me wonder what a “no mythics” format would be called…

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