Shadowborn Apostle: A PDH Study
I remember quite some time ago, a friend proposing a very simple question to me. I can’t remember the exact wording, but to paraphrase, they said; “We’re confident in saying a fun deck doesn’t imply it’s a winning deck, but does a winning deck necessarily imply fun?” At the time, I didn’t have an answer to this question, but I knew what I valued most at the time. Losing a great game held more value than constantly winning repetitive games. I always felt the need to prioritize some sense of self expression in my deck, and consider the Meta later.
As I began to have a much stronger sense of the game, although developing my own sense of self expression, came to learn that constantly losing isn’t so great either. I value home brews more than most aspects of this game, but in order to really get the most out of your experience, you need to build a deck that will sustain itself through a long game. I constantly explored unorthodox strategies, but it was also important to consider would they give me a wholesome game from start to finish.
Along these explorations, I came across a very particular common creature, with a very special trait that I just simply couldn’t ignore. Primarily existing in the Highlander world of MTG, I’m well-adjusted to having only one copy of any card at my disposal. So when a card like Shadowborn Apostle enters my knowledge base, I just had to know if a strategy around this card could be executed. I’ve seen this pulled off with standard EDH, but what about PDH?
Within this case study, my intention is to lay out any way this deck could be played, as well as several weaknesses surrounding the strategy. I will assess the prominence of its ability, as well as the overall strength of the card. After considering that, I will bring to light commanders that would be best suited for working with this card, and then dive deeper into the 99, and show how to fortify the best strategy to put into play. From that point on, you have the choice to decide if this is the kind of deck that suits your style.
First, let’s talk about Shadowborn Apostle‘s abilities. Casting six of these isn’t an expensive process, and the ability cost is only 1 black mana. As far as being able to afford to do this, we won’t have a problem. However, the issue lies in what we have at our disposal to tutor. At this time, only three demons exist that are PDH legal. That’s incredibly insufficient, but we can still add creatures with Changeling (Creatures that are all creature types). This adds a few more creatures, but that means we are splashing in at least one more color. It’s also important to know that these creatures aren’t exactly heavy hitters, like the desired demons. If the utility of this effect is derived solely from the creature you bring out onto the battlefield, your resources can be spent elsewhere.
What can we say about this card as a creature? Well, from a “Green” perspective, not much. Although only costing one black mana, it’s a 1/1. This is a chump blocker, and nothing more. With that being said, that’s not what worries me. If Shadowborn Apostle was a 1/2 creature, I’d be less concerned. However, with a toughness of only 1, any player running red, or the artifact staple Serrated Arrows, will shatter this deck.
Here are primary examples of dangerous (and quite common in the format) threats to Shadowborn Apostle. When I am brewing, Electrickery and Serrated Arrows are immediately considered, for these exact reasons. In a way, Shadowborn Apostle operates like a “strictly weaker token deck.” Removal like this is essential, and these cards will absolutely destroy our chances of successfully using Apostle’s activated ability.
Now, at this point, I haven’t really said anything good about this card, other than “it’s a cool card.” However, don’t conclude just yet that this deck can’t be done. It may not be played in the way you or I initially had in mind, but as we observe potential commanders, it will be easier to see that there’s another perspective to view.
Once I began to explore this realm of the study, I started to regain hope in this prospect. Although we have concluded above that this deck won’t be played as we all initially had in mind, we did make one very important observation about Shadowborn Apostle; they’re going to end up in the graveyard with ease.
This detail is so important, as it begins to shape the remainder of this study. If we can’t efficiently exploit its ability, can we at least exploit their ease to cast, and their ease to die? With that question in mind, it will narrow our search to decide on the most suitable commander.
After doing a full sweep, my search narrowed me down to four potential choices that could do a fair amount of work.
- Skirsdag Flayer: Since Shadowborn Apostle is a “Human Cleric Type” creature, this creature
removal ability can be utilized. There is absolutely nothing wrong this kind of ability, and its
constant presence can add a political element to your game. The problem lies in the nature of the
99. We are expecting these creatures to die in several different ways, other than paying a heavy
- Liliana’s Elite: Here is a piece that could get very big, very fast, provided your cards play out right.
The primary concern here, is the reliance on our graveyard. This is a format that reps Nihil
Spellbomb, Tormod’s Crypt, and Bojuka Bog. A strategy like this is incredibly susceptible to being
shut down at an instant.
- Ruthless Deathfang: In many cases, using Shadowborn Apostle to fetch a creature can turn into a
great board wipe, and go as far as a game ending move. Overall, Ruthless Deathfang is a great
creature, despite a high CMC. Having a second color in the mix adds to the opportunities for deck
optimization, so this may turn out to be your safest choice as a deck.
- Village Cannibals: We discussed above that Apostles will die from several circumstances out of
our control. Village Cannibals is such a great general, because it will utilize this inevitable
condition. In the case that removal is utilized, the gained counters from creature deaths disappear,
but the overall CMC of this deck will be consistently low.
From assessing some of our best choices, your best bet will lay between Ruthless Deathfang, and Village Cannibals. In order to decide between the two, our next step will be to observe legal elements for the 99 that will utilize our preferred strategies.
With any color, there are those cards that we would naturally place under the “good stuff” category. Such an approach is to be expected. However, it’s essential for us to assess if any cards that are less considered, will help us utilize this particular strategy. Since both commanders of interest contain black in their identities, Black is a great place to start.
At times, it can be a challenge to know what exactly it is you wish to find. In a circumstance like this, all we have is that one special piece of information we had discovered prior to now. Our stuff is guaranteed to end up in a graveyard, and it will that zone up quickly. That is where the above noted become relevant. Font of Return and Soul Star Expedition will be great for helping us refill our hands.
The two previously mentioned are important, but we will also have more immediate access to this action through sorceries and instants. The real flavor card absolutely must go to Sadistic Glee. A feature that buffs a creature as others die (a condition we intend to fulfill), this is an absolute must.
I’m particularly fond of Crypt Incursion for several reasons, but it’s particularly nice for this deck. Aside from its obvious graveyard hate mechanic, it’s also important to consider having ourselves be the target of our own use of this card. One more thing to consider, is that recursion is a mechanic that is utilized in this format, especially with several top tier decks heavily utilizing this (Psychatog is a prime example). In several cases, our graveyard will become considerably larger than others, much faster than our opponents.
Death Denied and March of the Returned are just two of several cards that allow us to fill our hands from our graveyard. Howl From Beyond diverges from our initial focal point, but it felt relevant, due to the nature of our commanders.
Because one of our commanders of interest have blue in its identity, it’s important to assess if blue adds a sufficient amount of utility to this particular strategy. However, since there exist few to no cards that notably synergize with Shadowborn Apostle, it will be easier to simply assess which commander is preferable.
From this point on, it’s important to now decide which of the two commanders will be preferable. Ideally, having access to blue will add several benefits, such as several more mana rocks, card draw without life penalty, and counter spells. Ruthless Deathfang will be a dangerous card as soon as it enters the battlefield, and will have the potential to wipe the board. However, despite these gains, the CMC is quite high, and such a card will place a target on you early onward.
Village Cannibals has the advantage of a low CMC, and it will grow as long as it remains on the board. Unlike Ruthless Deathfang, creatures do not have to be sacrificed to gain benefits. Board wipes will be discouraged, as they will only make this beast stronger. However, mono black has its’ limits. There’s minimal protection, and as soon as it’s removed from the battlefield, all accumulated gains are lost.
Both commanders have their pros, and both commanders have their cons. Both commanders have a particular style of play, so it’s difficult to pick one over the other. However, despite this previous note, our primary task has been achieved. In the event that you wish to play Shadowborn Apostle in PDH, there is a way for it to be done.
Only question remains; it’s possible, but is it worth it? The answer to that is entirely up to you. This wasn’t a study on creating a top tier deck, it was a study on playing something unique, and assessing whether or not it was possible. We have a confirmation that there is a way, so the choice to build is up to you.