Athreos: Extort the… Hades Out of Them

Early in my EDH days I built an Atheros deck. No, it wasn’t that deck that has been made famous by a certain Josh Lee Kwai. It was an extort deck with the hopes that I could keep replaying creatures that died and extort the… Hades out of my opponents. I was new to the format and it wasn’t very good. It also did not help that often I was playing a three player game of commander as extort gets better with the more opponents you have.

As I have begun to go back out in the wild again, I have found the opportunities for five or more player pods of commander has occurred. With it comes less of a desire for tempo decks and more towards grind em out decks. When you have four or more opponents the amount of removal increases at the table. If you jump to the early lead, then there will be plenty of players who will be willing and have the cards to beat you down. In these pods you don’t want to durdle, per se, but instead lay below the radar and then beat the tar out of them once the removal has been drained out of their hands. To see the whole deck list check it out on


This is when my brain revisited the concept of Extort. Since then I built a janky K’rrik deck with rats and Pontiff of Blight to extort the… Hades out of the table for fun. Now it was time to make a more serious build. Oloro was very tempting as a commander but in the end I settled yet again for the value that Atheros, God of Passage can bring to the table. It turns out there are a lot of low mana value vampires and a variant of Edgar Markov was in play too. In the end I think this is the more efficient version that does not get too caught up with side strategies. 

Extort is a triggered ability that whenever you cast a spell you may pay 1 orzhov hybrid mana and each opponent loses one life and you gain that much life. 

MTG Game Mechanic Definition

Extort is an ability to pay attention to. It has the word “each” on it. “Each opponent” is always better than “target opponent.” Not only does it reduce every opponent’s life total, it also gets around hexproof or shroud if your opponents play a card Privileged Position. “You gain that much” are words Commander Clinic likes about extort. This means that as the size of the table grows you gain more life. Extort scales wonderfully with the table. Thus, it is a perfect mechanic to bring to larger tables of EDH.

The other beauty about extort is it only pings your opponents. They are taking a point here and there and while it eventually adds up early in the game there will be larger threats at the table that will draw their attention away from you. What they may not realize is exactly how much life you are gaining. You may have extorted them for three so far. They lost a minimal three life; however, at a six player table you have gained 15 life. When it is time for them to start looking at slowing you down your life total will be such that short of commander damage or an all out table coordination, it will be difficult to do. All because you looked at a larger EDH table and decided to extort the… Hades out of them.


This version of Athreos looks awesome in your command zone.

To fuel it extort, it needs you to cast a lot of spells. When it comes to casting spells in mass,  we are limited to the cards in our hand and the mana we can generate. 

We are running 15 total cards that provide card advantage or quality so that we always have things to do. The best of these is Athreos. He provides the opportunity for creatures that have died to return to our hand. This, of course, is dependent on whether or not target opponent will let us. If they don’t, then they will lose three life. 

How to Get Cards Back 

Whether they let us have the card back depends on several factors. First is how strong the card is. If we load our deck up with cheap mana creatures, then odds are they are not “that” strong and our opponent will let us have them. The other factor is their life total. Early in the game when life totals are high it is easy for an opponent to take three damage in order to prevent us a card to hand. As life totals dwindle this is not the case. The best way to get a card back is to target this ability to the player with the least life. They are already behind in life totals and they will be less likely to allow our creatures to stay in the graveyard. 

A final thing to note about Athreos is that he is not always a creature. This is a good thing because while he is indestructible he is still vulnerable to exile effects. His body can be great as a blocker when necessary. His primary purpose; however, is to get our cards back to our hand. He doesn’t need to be a creature for that. He does need to be on the battlefield though.  

Death Triggers

Since Atheros brings things back from the graveyard, death triggers are optimal for the deck. This should not be a surprise as the deck contains black. For this we want three things to help us get the death triggers we desire. These are Sacrifice Outlets, Things to Sacrifice, and Death Payoffs. 

Sacrifice Outlets. 

We do not wish to rely on our opponents for things to die. Our creatures can attack and our opponents can choose not to block. We can hold creatures back to block, but they may not attack us. Turns can pass and none of our creatures die if left to our opponents. We can still do our thing, but we can’t count on our opponents to kill things for us. 

The deck contains six sacrifice outlets. The number is low so we will have to rely on drawing into them using massive card draw or tutors to go fetch them. Phyrexian Altar will cost a a creature but generate a mana. Priest of Forgotten Gods does a little of everything but the effect is primarily considered removal for this deck. Indulgent Aristocrat will cost us a creature to put a +1/+1 counter on each vampire we control. Vampiric Rites will draw us a card and High Market sacrifices a creature to gain one life. Finally, Westvale Abbey is a one time use sacrifice outlet. It will remove five creatures at once for a creature who has flying, lifelink, indestructible, and haste.  

There is another way to kill creatures of ours and that is through our own removal. Odds are we will not want to use single target removal. The cost of two cards is too much for our rewards. However, the deck does pack a few board wipes. These are optimal because they deal with our opponents’ threats and we get to benefit off of them. Toxic Deluge and The Meathook Massacre pack a punch eliminating indestructible creatures. Austere Command is a flexible board wipe and will allow us to miss our own creatures if we want it too. Massacre Wurm will take out little creatures and punish your opponent for them. Finally, Decree of Pain will allow us to rebuild faster by drawing us a card for each creature destroyed. 

Things to Sacrifice

The deck is packed with things to sacrifice. We want creatures low to the ground for extort purposes. We have nine creatures with one mana value and nine creatures with two mana value. Three of these eighteen creatures are extort creatures in Basilica Screecher, Thrull Parasite and Tithe Drinker. While these and other cards like Weathered Wayfarer would prefered to stay on the table, they are still expandable because they are cheap. Sacrificing one of these is OK because as the game progresses we will be able to cast them again.

 If in a pinch, then you can also sacrifice some three mana creatures although they will be a little more expensive to get out. We want the low mana costs because like most decks in commander we want explosive turns. We want to chain together three or more spells where we can pay for the extort trigger. 

Death Payoffs 

There are several payoffs in this deck. We want value throughout the entire chain of the sacrifice process. In this case use we create a resource when we sacrifice the creature and it dies. Then we gain the resource back as it goes to our hand for free. Then we get an extort trigger when we cast it again. 

Black Market will generate us extra mana for explosive turns. Dictate of Erebos and Grave Pact will cause our opponents to sacrifice their creatures helping to keep their board clear of threats. The Meathook Massacre is a traditional aristocrat card on an enchantment. So are Blood Artist, Cruel Celebant, and Syr Konrad but in creature form. Grim Haruspex and Midnight Reaper draw you cards to help keep the value train going. Cordial Vampire will pump up your vampires, Finally, Elenda the Dusk Rose will pump herself up or make lots of sacrifice fodder. Also the tokens she makes are vampires too. 


Vampires as a deck archetype can be built low to the ground. Blood Artists have your traditional aristocrat death triggers. Cordial Vampire will put a counter on your vampires upon death. Viscera Seer is a well known sacrifice outlet that is a vampire. Drana’s Emissary, Marauding Blight-Priest, Vampire Neonate, are a few of the vampires that cause life loss. Vampire Cutthroat and Gifted Aetherborn have lifelink to help keep us in the game. At the top end of out curve is Captivating Vampire will make us more vampires while stealing our opponents creatures and Elenda, the Dusk Rose with death Triggers of her own can create a slew of vampire tokens.

Nineteen total vampires is low for a tribal deck, but it is still serviceable. We want to remember this deck is not first and foremost a tribal deck. If it was, we would be including tribal cards like Vanquisher’s Banner and Door of Destinies. Instead we are an extort deck or a death trigger deck that is using some of the synergies of vampires to enhance our strategy. This is mostly because there are vampires that will ping our opponents’ life down or help us gain life. It won’t be a fast process. A plodding strategy early on will not appear the threat. That benefits us. Let our opponents use their removal elsewhere and we will reap the rewards later when we are set up. 

Weaponizing Lifegain (The Final Puzzle Piece) 

We have lots of life loss in this deck. The deck also has lots of life gain to keep us alive. We also want to weaponize that life gain. Life is a resource and we want to use it if we can. We did not use the go to life gain combo because it costs a lot of mana. It works best when you can play it out of nowhere and win the game. This deck is not optimized for such a play. We did include Sanguine Bond. This is a card that will allow us to pick on one opponent and drop their life total so that we can assure we get our creatures back. Athreos is our main strategy. So anything we can do to help push our opponents into the direction we want is a good thing. We can also kill opponents with this card alone.

Aetherflux Reservoir outright wins the game if we gain enough life. It is also a protection. If someone is going to win or kill you once you have achieved 50 life you can kill them and their triggers leave the stack. Marauding Blight-Priest will cause life loss each time you gain life and it does it to EACH opponent. Our final way of weaponizing life gain is by setting our life total high enough that we can use Bolas’s Citadel over and over again. Bolas’ Citadel will cast the cards from the top of your deck and cost you life not mana. You can still pay the one mana for extort as it is an additional casting cost. This allows you to extort over and over again all the while killing your opponents and gaining life to do use The Citadel again. 

The Key Three

Normally, there are cards that make a deck run at optimal performance. These cards are the STP gas treatment that help the deck do what it wants to do most efficiently. We already spent some significant time on Atheros. Obviously he is a main cog in The Key Three, but we will not cover him here. Just know, play him out on turn three every chance you can. To see the whole deck list check it out on

Blind Obedience

Difficult to remove, this is the best extort card in the format.

We have talked about extort and what it does. Blind Obedience is the best of all the extort cards. First it’s on an enchantment and is difficult to remove. This means it will be out on the table turn after turn allowing us to extort the… Hades out of them. This is the most efficient of the extort cards.

Second, It causes your opponents creatures and artifacts to come into the battlefield tapped. This slows our opponents down giving your other opponents and you time to react to threats that enter the table. It also limits explosive turns and combo players as mana rocks can not be tapped for mana the turn they enter play. For higher powered tables it also makes Mana Crypt slow mana that they will have to pay four mana to untap for three mana. You won’t be seeing The Crypt while this enchantment is on the table.   

Pontiff of Blight

Multiple instances of extort… Yes, Please!!!

If Blind Obedience is the most efficient extort card, then Pontiff of Blight is the most explosive. It gives each creature an instance of extort. Extort is stackable and each trigger goes on the stack. So, if you have Pontiff and four other creatures on the battlefield you can pay five extra mana for one spell and extort the… Hades out of them with just one spell. This card is brilliant with K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth as you can pay as much life as you possibly can for each extort trigger and then get it all back to do it again. K’rrik did not make the cut as other ramp cards were chosen that had broader applications. It’s an easy include for those who what that more explosive potential or combo off.

Other cards that make lots of mana so you can extort the… Hades out of them are Black Market which will put mana in your mana pool on your first main phase.  Nirkana Revenant (a vampire) and Crypt Ghast who add an extra mana every time you tap a swamp. By the way, Crypt Ghast also has extort on it as well. Cabal Coffers and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx puts mana in your pool in chunks as well. These cards will help you extort many times off of one spell cast. Finally Bolas’ Citadel as mentioned above reduces your mana footprint so that you can just spend your mana to trigger all your instances of extort when the pontiff is out.   

Syr Konrad, the Grim

Syr Konrad synergizes with Athreos for a win-win scenario.

The deck has several Blood Artist triggers. The best of them is Syr Konrad. The death trigger is great. It doesn’t gain you life like others. It does have an additional damage trigger that is deadly. When Athreos triggers and an opponent chooses to let the creature go to your hand, then that creature leaves the graveyard. In doing so, Syr Konrad triggers and deals damage to EACH opponent. This is hyper efficient and creates a win-win situation where no matter what your opponent chooses, he will be losing life.  Excuse me sir, would you like to lose one life or three? His mill ability is inconsequential in this deck. However it is still a mana sink when you have extra mana lying around. It also can finish off an opponent in a last ditch effort to win.

Pet Cards

Commander decks often contain many staples in them. These cards are very strong. Despite this there are always cards on the fringes that synergize well in a deck that replace these staples. Sometimes they are just some cards that a particular player has a preference for. The following are a few pet cards that are included in the deck and why. 

Archangel of Thune 

With Extort creatures get beefy fast.

It’s unusual in a vampire deck to find an angel. However the Archangel synergizes very well with this deck. Every instance of life gain in this deck will put counters on your creatures powering them up. Swinging out for the win is not your main way to win, but it’s a possibility with the archangel to finish off your opponents that way. This gives the deck flexibility in ending games. Keep in mind every time you extort for one mana This angel will put a counter on all your creatures.

Bontu’s Monument

Ramp for Aristocrats

This is mana ramp in a different way: instead of generating more mana it reduces the cost of black spells. There are 41 spells that have black in them and this card will ramp you towards them. It also hits the aristocrats strategy from a different angle as well. Whenever you cast a creature spell each opponent will lose a life and you will gain 1 life. It’s not quite as good as extort but you also do not have to pay additional mana for the trigger either. In fact, if you are playing a black creature spell you are paying less mana. Athreos loops creatures so that you can cast them again, making Bontu’s Monument a must include for this deck.

Weathered Wayfarer

Don’t sleep on the Wayfarer

Found in three percent of decks that play with white, this card is often overlooked. It really shouldn’t be as Weathered Wayfarer tutors for any land, not just a basic one. Fixing mana is the very least this card can do. Most times you will use it to fetch Nykthos or the Cabal Coffers combo. It also can fetch Reliquary tower so you do not have to discard a plethora of cards that are in your hand from Athreos. If you are short a sac outlet Westvale Abbey will provide it as well as a huge beater. There’s a reason it made my top 10 white cards and should be in your EDH collection. Wayfarer only shows up in 95 Athreos decks as of this writing. It should be in more.  

Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire

Let’s be real, most of the time they will pay the three life to put it in your graveyard.

Commander Clinic MTG

When they spoiled Varragoth, the Bloodsky Sire,  my first thought was “This is going to be work to keep him alive.” His value is that he is reusable. We want value not a one of effect. If it were me, then I would block it every single time. Varragoth is slow because the deck does not have haste. However, what it does have working for it is your opponents will want to kill it. If you swing then they will block. You boast a card, get some death triggers and if your opponent’s life totals are low enough get it back to your hand. Let’s be real, most of the time they will pay the three life to put it in your graveyard. Keep in mind, using Varragoth for a Boloas’ Citadel or an Aetherflux Reservoir is a trade worth making.   

Extorting the… Hades out of them 

This deck doesn’t win all at once. It is death by 1000 cuts. After all we extort the… Hades out of them. Remember you can view the full deck list on Archidekt.

Like most decks you will want to mulligan often. Having an extort creature goes a long way for the deck running efficiently. Once extort is online you will want mana so don’t be afraid to keep a four land hand or a hand with multiple ramp options. If you have an extort card in the hand, then flooding out is a good risk to take to assure you can extort as you start up your deck. Death triggers can come later. The deck wants to extort cards out of the gate early. 

As with all decks you want to make it your own. Liesa, Forgotten Archangel doubles up Athreos triggers but is slower. You will get the card so the question becomes does your opponent pay three life to stop you from playing it this turn? With Luminous Broodmoth you can choose to stack the triggers to where Athreos resolves off first. This also assures your opponent will send the card to your hand. Why pay three life to have it return to the battlefield? Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose (a vampire) almost made the deck in the weaponize life gain slot. Another Sanguine Bond that can give lifelink is really strong. It’s hard to justify removing Bolas’ Citadel for it. The Citadel is just great value with enough mana and extort cards on the field. These are just a few cards you can sprinkle for flavor for your deck. 

But Where’s…

The most notable exclusion has yet to be mentioned. Teysa Karlov will double up death triggers and is an excellent inclusion. It was a tough call between her and Archangel of Thune. Choosing to switch the two is neither right or wrong. It’s easy to target Teysa for removal because she synergizes with what the deck does so much. You will also get that much additional death value out of your death triggers you may not need her on the battlefield long. Much like Varragoth, opponents will pay the three life to put it in the graveyard or just outright exile her.

Archangel of Thune however can win games too as a large evasive flyer. You also can prevent a ground assault with several vampires that are powered up by several +1/+1 counters. Because it is not a main part of what the deck wants to do, it is hard to justify removing Archangel of Thune immediately. Sometimes, your opponent will chooses to shut down the death trigger engine.  In the end this card choice is what flavor of the deck do you want? I chose more life and turn rectangles sideways. You don’t have to. Now get out there and extort the… Hades out of them.

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