I’ve often said in my articles here that Commander is the perfect marriage between Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. So I’m very happy that with Magic finally getting an official D&D crossover set, WotC made sure to extend that experience into the game’s premier multiplayer format. The four precons available with Adventures in Forgotten Realms are each commanded by members of a powerful adventuring group – and today I’ll be breaking down and suggesting upgrades for the party wizard, Sefris of the Hidden Ways!
SHE’S THE UN-LIFE OF THE PARTY
If you’re like me, you heard “Esper Wizard Commander” and assumed that this would be a heavily blue deck playing a classic, spell-based control game. But it turns out the “Hidden Ways” is a polite euphemism for “necromancy”, and Sefris is actually far more concerned with getting huge white and black creatures into your graveyard en route to the battlefield! In D&D terms, her signature spell is “Create Undead” – a more powerful incantation producing undead who remember their past lives and abilities, instead of mindless skeletons and zombies. Huge flavor win for the AFR design team!
Reanimator themes are quite popular in Commander, as one of the most powerful and flexible things to be done in white or black decks. But Sefris does add a very Forgotten Realms twist – her ability to personally reanimate creatures requires you to first complete one of AFR’s signature dungeon cards! I love when Commanders have little caveats of this sort, as they challenge us to look beyond the obvious staples for Reanimator for new synergies while allowing WotC to print Sefris with a very low mana value for what she provides.
A DUBIOUS VENTURE
Our Commander being blessed with a low mana value and powerful ability means we may as well build around having Sefris in play and casting Create Undead on every turn possible. That means speedrunning our dungeons, especially the two shorter ones – Lost Mine of Phandelver and Tomb of Annihilation.
We don’t have room for a full refresher on dungeons today, but you can always check back to my mechanic spotlight article if you need to swot up on how these work!
We can only Create Undead once for every four venture triggers; maybe three if we’re in a good enough spot to push through the Oubliette room of Tomb, though I wouldn’t count on that. The actual room effects we can choose along the way are a pleasant bonus, particularly the tokens and card draw, but they aren’t the kind of thing that is worth putting much emphasis on in Commander. And that’s also true of spells that help generate more triggers: with only a single Standard set to draw from for the venture mechanic, trying to find more dungeoneers to speed up our Sefris engine will quickly leave us sifting through draft chaff.
Even reading these as “25% of a Create Undead” doesn’t leave us with many playable Commander cards – sorry, Cloister Gargoyle!
Unless we are blessed with a return of the dungeon mechanic in a future set, my recommendation is to just assume Sefris herself will handle most of our venturing, rather than using up slots in our 99. Her trigger may be capped at one venture per turn, but in a four-player game that’s still one free Zombify on each turn cycle – equivalent to the better side of Sheoldred! And with such an easily-fulfilled condition, we can get Sefris solo-clearing Tomb of Annihilation cheaply and reliably while playing more exciting, consistent cards overall.
But if you’re absolutely determined to play as many of the new venture cards as possible, there is one way to maximize their value. Both paths through Tomb of Annihilation feature room effects which should cause a Sefris trigger from discarding or sacrificing creatures (including tokens), but if Sefris was already the reason we were venturing in the first place her “once per turn” stipulation means we can’t take advantage. But using a different card to venture onto those floors means we can double-up almost 100% of the time, letting us clear the Tomb and Create Undead in just two turns!
WE’RE IN THIS FOR THE LOOT
In general, we simply want to maximize ways to put at least one creature card into our graveyard on each player’s turn. This obviously implies effects we can use at instant speed, and preferably at minimal cost so we can still play normally while the dungeons tick over. Playing cards which can self-sacrifice or cycle wherever possible is a solid start and is usually a sidegrade at worst – the precon already features several strong options in this vein. But the best kind of Sefris enabler is a very on-flavor one for adventurers: so-called “looting” effects.
We have 28 years of draw-then-discard spells to choose from, and we should almost exclusively be playing them as our card selection tools in a Sefris deck. They get uncastable giant creatures out of our hand and into the graveyard, they refill our hand with fresh gas to play, and of course, they trigger Sefris (so long as we discard at least one creature). Repeated free effects like the ability of Merfolk Looter are ideal, and with our cycling, milling, and sacrifice effects as backup, we should be reliably venturing with Sefris every single turn.
We can easily fit in a good number of Merfolk Looter lookalikes by putting them in the slots most Commander decks reserve for ramp! Remember that Sefris costs a measly three mana and that besides the looters and cheap interaction, we probably won’t want to pay mana for a lot of the cards in our deck! We also need a very high overall creature count to be consistently discarding them for Sefris triggers, and playing mana rocks (which is almost 100% of our ramp options for Esper) will just make our favorite shortcut through the Oubliette more painful. Trust me, it’s more fun to leave the Signets and Sol Rings at home for once.
This deck can quickly turn into “people staring at shiny objects” tribal!
PUTTING THE ROMANCE BACK IN NECROMANCY
OK, imagine we’ve gotten Sefris into play and proceeded to loot our way rapidly through four floors of Lost Mine or Tomb. Now we’re up to the fun part – choosing which enormous nasties Sefris will retrieve through her “hidden ways” to bully our opposition! The precon itself already offers some classic options, all of which are good enough to keep around if you’re happy with them. But this is also the part of the deck where you can express yourself with whatever favorite bombs you want to sleeve up – unless your pet wincon is Phage the Untouchable, it’s probably got enough punch to carry a game from here. Still, there are some general traits I look for in a Create Undead target:
ETB and death/LTB abilities are the #1 priority; we’ve worked hard enough to get them in play that we need to be netting some value even when they catch an immediate Swords to Plowshares. Anything that takes out an opposing threat is nice, as are looting/card draw triggers or those which chain into further reanimation – these are effects we need all the time anyway, and the more we can overlap them with this other core function of “huge deadly attacker”, the more consistent we will be.
I swear if I do nothing else with these guides, I *will* price-spike Demon of Dark Schemes.
If your reanimation target isn’t essentially paying for itself the moment it touches the battlefield, then it should either be individually hard to kill, feature some extremely potent reward for keeping it around, or both. Most of that overlap comes from giant “hatebombs” which restrict your opponents’ options in a way that makes it hard to do anything, let alone remove a jumbo-jet-sized archon. Since Sefris gives us the rare opportunity to reanimate things at instant speed (any time we can get the last venture trigger in), we can even use these hatebombs reactively to blow out our opponents – like reanimating Sunblast Angel in response to an attack, or Avacyn, Angel of Hope in response to Wrath of God.
Whatever path you prefer with your graveyard superstars, you should try and sprinkle in a few medium-cost options and self-discarding ones as well – just to reduce the inherent variance of what is essentially an A+B combo, albeit a very nonspecific one. Likewise, I strongly suggest having a smattering of backup reanimation spells in the 99 in case we can’t get Sefris online for one reason or another. The precon already comes with some great examples of effects that either help to get additional Sefris triggers in the bargain, or which are also creatures themselves – I always like to keep track of when I’m getting effects from a creature vs. non-creature source since creatures are both more fragile and easier to recur. A mix of both is ideal.
While Sefris is a bit too single-minded in design to create many diverging threads for this precon to build down, there will always be the chance to switch in one of the other legendary creatures provided and demote her to the 99 in pursuit of a different experience.
Nihiloor is a villainous mind-flayer, working as consigliere to the Waterdeep City crime syndicate of the beholder Xanathar. Much of Nihiloor’s power comes from the huge swing in board control you get just by resolving them and triggering their ETB. The static ability of draining life can add up if you keep thieving creatures, but in most cases stealing that much stuff will cause you to win the game anyway… it’s a bit of an odd design all-around, seemingly balanced for a more casual table but also sporting the option to permanently capture enemy Commanders. Still, if your group is down to play with the flayer, supplement your “gain control of” spells with some reanimation spells that can target any graveyard.
Minn, Wily Illusionist is the biggest possible departure in an otherwise focused decklist. Choosing to build around Minn means going mono-blue, but in return, you get a lot of choices about which part of this multi-faceted ability you’ll try to break. Do you want to play Illusion tribal? Would you rather have lots of ways to duplicate Minn’s tokens or even Minn herself? Do you use other effects like Equipment to pump up the power of your Illusions before each one dies to net greater value? Triggering Minn every single turn requires slightly different enablers to venturing as Sefris, but otherwise, the philosophy is similar and the payoff equally big. Hats off to Glenn Jones and his team at WotC for these powerful and dynamic commander options!
SAVE YOUR GPs: $50 PRECON UPGRADE SUGGESTIONS
Out – Fellwar Stone, Bucknard’s Everfull Purse, Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Cloudblazer, Grave Endeavor, Revivify, Thorough Investigation, Arcane Endeavor, Plaguecrafter, Minimus Containment, Component Pouch, Clay Golem, Wall of Omens, Forbidden Alchemy, Extract Brain, Hama Pashar, Ruin Seeker, Rod of Absorption, Wand of Orcus
In – Priest of Fell Rites, Teferi, Master of Time, Nim Deathmantle, Dream Trawler, Lore Broker, Demon of Dark Schemes, Hell’s Caretaker, Archfiend of Ifnir, Nadaar, Selfless Paladin, Thought Courier, Enclave Cryptologist, Tetzimoc, Primal Death, Enduring Renewal, Barrowin of Clan Undurr, Yuan-Ti Malison, Fly, Reya Dawnbringer, Nezahal, Primal Tide, Taigam, Sidisi’s Hand
These swaps will lock in that focus on looting over ramp and add more powerful reanimation targets, all while leaving a few dollars left over for upgrading lands or generic interaction. A couple of standouts are Teferi, Master of Time who will quickly become BFFs with Sefris given a chance, and Enduring Renewal, which we can play out once we have a creature or two in play and ensure we draw straight through to our lands/noncreature interaction every turn thereafter! Dream Trawler and Nezahal are sort of looters in a roundabout fashion, and Tetzimoc can be a one-sided boardwipe by activating it in hand then looting it to reanimate. I also threw in the more powerful venture cards just to maximize that AFR feel (and our odds of a 2-turn dungeon clear) with the exception of Acererak, who isn’t quite as cool when we want to smash out repeated loops of Tomb of Annihilation compared to just one.
THIS IS THE (HIDDEN) WAY
That’s about all the necromantic lore I can reveal to you aspiring Sefris players out there. I feel like this is one of the most well-realized precon decks ever out of the box, so you don’t necessarily need to change 30% of the cards straight away even if I told you to – jam a few games, talk with your group about the power level you want, and then decide where you want to land on the scale between “AFR Set Constructed Venture Tribal” and “Legacy Reanimator Combo”. Whichever shape your personal adventure takes, you can rest assured that Sefris will prove herself a staunch companion.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.