Take Ten: Upgrade Undead Unleashed

For the past year Wizards of the Coast have been promoting Commander through releasing commander preconstructed decks with all standard releases. This is great because it provides a vehicle for older more valuable cards to get reprinted. These decks can be played out of the box and provide an enjoyable experience, but they are far from being optimized. Take Ten takes a look at these preconstructed decks and provides ten card suggestions to improve the deck and what cards to remove to add these cards. Today we look to upgrade Undead Unleashed.

Deconstructing Undead Unleashed

Right from the beginning of the deck we know it will be zombie tribal. We will want zombies, zombies and more zombies. If we end up with more zombies than Night of the Living Dead all the better. Looking at the commander out of the box we see that the deck wants death triggers. As our creatures die we will make decayed zombies which we can draw value out of them by either attacking or sacrificing. Decayed is a weak mechanic because the zombies are not best suited for aggressive attacking. However, in this deck Wizards did a good job of balancing the commander. These zombies will help with Wilhelt’s second ability 

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver’s second ability allows you to sacrifice a zombie to draw a card. Card draw on the commander allows you to continue to have gas throughout the game. The downside is that this trigger can only happen once on your turn. At four mana Wilhelt comes out quickly  and then draws you cards while providing a board presence when your creatures die. This deck wants cards and you will get some. There will be things for you to do on your turn. And it should help make the deck an enjoyable experience. 

The best part is they unleashed him. You never see the word nontoken on your commander. This allows it to synergize well with itself as well with all of the zombie tribal cards that are in the format. Some of the best cards bring out ranks of zombie tokens and we can use them all to pound down our opponents. 

Thumbing Through the 99 

If you want to upgrade Undead Unleashed, then you need to look at the 99. With all the death triggers going on it would be easy for Wizards to put together an aristocrats theme along with the zombies. We are pleased that they did not do that. Zombies, if kept on theme have a resilient board state that sometimes feels inevitable as they attack and trigger abilities to further your board state. While the deck is well put together with what was not in the deck it is even better with what is IN the deck. 

Some of the best zombie tribal cards are in the deck. Army of the Damned and Endless Ranks of the Dead are auto includes in zombie decks that utilize tokens and they are in here. It has zombie lords galore including Liliana’s Mastery which is on an enchantment and hard to remove. This card creates a few zombies as well. Lilliana, Death’s Majesty gives options that zombie decks enjoy and is an excellent include as well.  The deck is very solid from a staple or reprint standpoint. The cards that can be added to this deck can be solid cards but not the obvious includes. They are already there. The cards used to upgrade this deck will be good cards but they will also build the character of the deck. This was another excellent job done by Wizards of the Coast. 

The Nuts and Bolts

When we look at this deck we will want the standard Card Draw or Quality, Mana Ramp and Fixing, and Removal packages. The deck provides a solid framework with 12 draw, 8 ramp and 11 removal cards. The deck wants card draw and 12 is a great start with Wilhelt in the command zone providing an extra card per turn. We can upgrade Undead Unleashed by improving the draw and removal spells while we will want to add two more ramp cards to these packages. Some packages can get away with eight cards, unfortunately, ramp is not one of them.  The deck has forty lands which is a little high and if we can fix the ramp issue then we definitely can afford reducing the number of lands for our Take Ten. 

As for deck specific packages there are three things the deck wants. The first is zombies and lots of them. Because we want them everywhere, the deck looks to contain about a third of the deck either being a zombie or creating one somehow. The deck far exceeds that with 42 cards that make zombies or give you access to cast one (Gisa and Geralf). We could reduce this number if we need to. Having such an excess will also allow us to activate our commanders abilities significantly easier so it is better to keep this excess intact if possible. 

The deck also wants sacrifice (sac) outlets as well as death payoffs. There’s nine sac outlets in the deck. Sacrifice decks would want seven to ten of them. A lot of these sac outlets are on creatures. If we can find appropriate value in sacrificing our creatures, then we want to have these outlets not on creatures. This will allow us to sacrifice those creatures without losing our outlet. This opens up the shenanigans of the deck with what we can sacrifice. We will also want five to seven death payoffs. The deck sits at five payoffs. We will look to add some additional payoffs, but look to avoid the standard aristocrats lose life payoff. The deck can easily become an aristocrats deck. We want to avoid that. 

The Upgrades 

If you want a visual of of how to upgrade Undead Unleashed, then check it out on Archidekt here

The deck doesn’t need much so we will start with the additional ramp cards. We will start with a Bontu’s Monument. It is not standard ramp but the mana reduction will do the job as the deck wants to cast multiple spells and we can save more than the one extra mana we would get from most mana rocks like Dimir Signet. The additional way to reduce your opponents life total is worth the extra one mana we spend for our ramp.

We will also include Black Market because it also provides a death or sacrifice benefit while ramping the deck. This dual purpose will help us maintain the plethora of zombies on the battlefield. We will actually add two additional ramp pieces in the form of sacrifice outlets. Ashnod’s Altar and Phyrexian Altar will stay on the field and provide additional mana to cast more things while killing our zombies. If Black Market is out, then even better.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General does a little of everything, even if you never achieve her ultimate ability. First she provides a sacrifice payoff by drawing cards. She also can create zombie tokens that are quite expendable. The expendability of a token is important as she also has a negative four loyalty ability that forces everyone to sacrifice two creatures. This Lili efficiently provides a sac outlet for you while drawing cards and whittling down your opponents’ battlefield. It is six mana but it will help you whether you are ahead, behind, or need to break parity. 

What was Missed

While the deck is phenomenal for a preconstructed product, Wizards did miss a couple of cards. If you want to upgrade the precon, then these cards should be included. These The first is Gravecrawler. It is a zombie that you can cast from your graveyard. With the number of zombies in this deck you will have the presence to cast him from your graveyard. This is a cheap loop where you sacrifice him and play him over and over again triggering the payoffs you have on the battlefield. With Phyrexian Altar you can generate 1 mana and cast him again infinitely.

Grimgrin, Corpse Born is a threat I was surprised not to see in the deck list. It is a sac outlet that grows tall. Your opponents can chump block it so getting through will not happen often short of flying zombies. Yup it’s a “thing.” Instead, Grimgin is steady pressure. Everytime he attacks, he’s destroying a creature. If they block a zombie of yours you can sac it before the damage step to untap Grimgrin and do it again next turn. Plus they will lose the chump blocker. If they block to kill him Sacrifice some zombies to continually untap him (he doesn’t need to be tapped to activate the trigger) and add counters until he survives. With Wilhelt out you gain even more zombies to sacrifice. Grimgrin creates inevitability and also an excellent Vorthos feel to the deck as well.

Undead Warchief is a zombie lord Wizards missed. He reduces the cost of Zombies. Thus, he is mana ramp as well. When out on the battlefield, it makes your hand fast to cast leading to explosive turns. He is worth a spot in this deck. Wizards also overlooked Champion of the Perished. A one mana black zombie is cheap to play and it grows with each zombie you commit to the board. Like Grimgrin he may not get through mid to late game, but it’s pressure to the battlefield for one mana that players have to answer for. These creatures that grow tall help you to stay aggressive in the mid game and keep the game moving forward. Being from Midnight Hunt and a buy a box promo, Champion of the Perished is less of a chase card and could have been included in this deck. 

The Final Piece

Commander Clinic is a big advocate of explosive turns. For this reason the final include in Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. While the human destruction can be nice it is Mikaeus ability to give nonhumans undying that is exceptional. Pair this ability with your commander and it can go bonkers. Using any sacrifice outlet, sacrifice a nontoken creature and make a decayed zombie token. Then because of undying it comes back and you can sacrifice it again for a second token. There’s other recursion effects in the deck  so it is possible for you to cast the zombie from your graveyard and do it all over again.  There are also many low to the ground mana value zombies for you to abuse with this ability. The only downside is that when players see Mikaeus they automatically think Triskelion is in the deck.    

Cards to Remove

In our take ten we added five pieces of ramp bringing the total to 13 cards. Having accomplished this goal we can take out four lands. We will remove an Island and a Swamp. We will also remove Darkwater Catacombs and Tainted Isle. The Catacombs will give one of each mana color but we would want more flexibility. Tainted Isle requires a swamp to tap for colored mana. It’s easy enough to activate but we will keep an extra basic instead for those who run nonbasic land hate. 

Reducing the Curve

Like with most Take Ten we want to stay either mana neutral or reduce the mana curve. We are adding four cards at the top of the curve. We will remove five to help improve the curve a little bit. Stitcher Geralf is five mana to cast and three mana to activate for one big zombie that can be achieved in a five mana Grimgrin. Eater of Hope is not a zombie and a sacrifice outlet. It also destroys creatures. Liliana is all this and draws cards so we will swap the two. 

Gorex the Tombshell does become cheaper to cast and puts cards in our hand  However it has a lot of hoops to jump through for mana reduction and is slow card draw. Black Market is five mana and has a payoff for creatures dying as opposed to getting cards from the graveyard. While great versus big mana decks, Curse of Unbinding costs seven mana and it does not synergize with our deck. How many creatures will be need to get our seven mana back? We will remove it for Mikaeus, the Unhallowed for all the synergy it brings.

Finally, Drown in Dreams is a bad rate for drawing cards; you will need to spend six mana to draw four cards to reach the 1.5 mana per card ratio suggested. There will be times you will need a burst of cards. But you also do not want to take a turn off to do it as this deck wants to be committing cards to the board each turn.  These cards removed help lower the deck’s mana curve. 

Shadow Kin

Do not misunderstand this cut. I love Shadow Kin’s design. It can be a zombie for you and you can change what it is depending on what you need. It can even become some large creatures of your opponents too. However the cuts are getting tight, and a sometimes non-zombie cards or exceptional value outside of what we are doing will be trumped by actually having a card that does what your deck wants to do. If you buy the precon hold onto this card it will be useful in the right deck. It just isn’t this one. 


You can find the Take Ten with budget upgrades on Archidekt here. This Take Ten is a little pricey. The total current cost is $225.40. Most of that cost is tied up in Phyrexian Altar which is over $70 and is in need of a reprint badly. The card is not needed to run and there is a budget swap that can be made in Altar of Dementia. The Phyrexian Altar is optimal because of the loops it can create with Gravecrawler, but Altar of Dementia can work well too. 

Mikaeus the Unhallowed is almost $40 You can substitute another zombie synergy card to reduce cost as well. You will lose synergy and an explosive board state, but if you are selective, then you can add some resilience or game ending tech. Rise of the Dread Marn is board wipe protection that costs around a dollar fifty. It demoralizes your opponents to wipe the board and have a bunch of zombies repopulate it instantly. Gary or Gray Merchant of Asphodel costs about seventy cents and can help reduce life totals and is another budget alternative and can help you close out a game. He is also a zombie to add to other synergies. 

Lilliana, Dreadhorde General costs $35. She does exactly what your deck wants to do. Because of this I do not advise cutting her for a budget alternative. It’s better to just add Lilli to your collection. If you must, then Sidisi, Undead Vizier will sacrifice a creature and pull a card from your library and is a zombie for around $7. You will not get repeatable effects that Lilliana offers so buyer beware.   

Summing it up. 

The build of this precon out of the gate is an awesome advantage. There were little must cut cards outside of too many lands. There were no must include cards either. Wizards hit the zombie theme right on the head and it provides a lot of room for any Take Ten exercises to be creative. If you have a pet card it can easily slide it into this deck or include a well used staple like Cyclonic Rift

Phyrexian Obliterator is a pet card that I love that I passed on. It would add to the oppressive feel of the deck. Ghoulcaller, Gisa is another card that works well in the deck and The Scarab God makes Zombies out of creatures in ANY graveyard. These are just a couple of examples and there are many more. There is no one correct Take Ten build. They all have advantages. 

While I personally have a Scarab God zombie deck, I am looking forward to using this Take Ten build over the coming weeks. I am curious to see if it will overtake my original. What cards would you add in your own personal Take Ten? Let me know and as always if you have any questions feel free to contact me at commanderclinicmtg.com.  If you want to see the Take Ten for Coven Counters you may read it here.

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