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A Treatise on Reliably Raising the Dead

Updated: Apr 23

Diregraf Colossus
Diregraf Colossus - Art by Cincent Proce. © Wizards of the Coast

8 by 8 EDH - Yawgmoth, Physician of the Damned

The 8 by 8 EDH System is a strategy first approach to EDH deck building that aims to build fun and reliable decks. The system is founded upon a few simple principles that help guide strategy decisions, making deck design and building much quicker and easier.

Here are the principles already covered in this series:

  1. 12 Starting Hands Principle

  2. Minimum Viable Strategy Principle

  3. Diversity vs Quantity Principle and the Golden Recipe

  4. Strategy Priority Principle and why Fun Matters

Be sure to check these out if you haven't already as I will be referring to all of the principles while building this glorious Zombie Tribal deck down below!

What To Expect

This guide aims to demonstrate the process from designing the recipe to the actual building of a deck using the 8 by 8 EDH System principles. I will also cover some useful ways in which you can optimize your build process using some really helpful websites as well as how organizing your collection can speed things up even more!

  • To build efficiently you must reduce time-consuming activities

  • Designing the recipe upfront focuses your card search scope to just the strategies you chose

  • Creating a series of labelled strategy boxes (eg. ramp, removal, wraths...) for the most common strategies you typically build with, makes it easier to find the cards you need

  • Using online tools to support your design decisions speeds up strategy decision making

  • Building using what you have initially, and leaving upgrades for later will save you time and money and get the deck into circulation faster

  • The full decklist with recipe (in the primer) can be found here on Moxfield

Designing for the Dead

This is arguably the hardest part. For players who haven't performed dark rituals to summon forbidden knowledge or spent their lives scouring undecipherable runic tomes... it may not be so easy to just know what strategies (or commander) you would choose. So I will show you how to leverage some online tools to assist with this process.

Firstly, I already decided that I wanted to build a mono coloured black zombie deck, primarily as I was reorganizing my black cards and saw some cool zombie lords. I also have held onto this really janky life shenanigans idea for way too long so I want a platform for the strategy (its just a few cards, so easily fits in a 4 card strategy). To make it more effective I will add some better quality tutors later.

Now lets talk about the commander. I have many mono black choices, but I know for certain I want card draw, and some way to sacrifice zombies to gain advantage. We can use EDHREC to help us with this. You can also use SCRYFALL (if you know how to setup the queries right), but EDHREC is actually much simpler and also tailored to EDH, so you get a bunch of useful metric's that will help you build as well. I didn't feel like buying a new commander, so ideally it should be one in my collection, and I happened to have several spare "Yawgmoth, Thran Physician" cards lying around from some recent Dominaria Remastered unboxings so this seemed like the obvious choice for me. There are many to choose from, so you could use any other option. That same EDHREC page shows you recommended cards based on what other people use, so its a great place to gather ideas for possible upgrades as well.

Next we need to decide upon 2-4 strategies we think work well with the Zombie theme. The most common is an infinite resurrection combo alongside some aristocrat style "opponents lose life every time a creature ETB's/dies and I gain life" win condition. I don't want to add that here, instead I will just go with a simple resurrection/recovery strategy. It will still be repeatable, and I won't end up with an infinite horde or infinite life, but I should still end up with modest horde of lorded zombies (Its good to show restraint at the table, you can sneak wins at the table like that). I already mentioned that I found some Zombie Lords that I wanted to add, so they get a small strategy. Even though this is just a small MVS strategy, I actually have zombie anthems in other strategies that can also buff the zombies so its better than it looks.

Obviously we need a way to build our army, so zombie creature token generators are a must! I will throw in some skeleton generators as some of the lords work with both skeletons and zombies, so lets see how that works out.

The last thing I will add is my life exchange jank. I have some peculiar cards in my collection that I just never built around yet, so these will be a small janky win-condition:

  • Tree of Perdition (exchanges toughness and a players life total)

  • Catapult Fodder/Catapult Captain (sacrifice creature, target player loses life equal to creatures toughness)

With this I can steal one persons life and then nuke another player... something really unconventional. It may not work every time, but that one time it does work... will be pretty sweet! Plus with some recovery and resurrection, and later some tutors, I feel confident this will work out.

One extra area that gets overlooked is the lands. I found EDHREC doesn't really help much with this, so I painstakingly created a bunch of Scryfall search queries to give me lands for different manabases. These you can find on my personal (ad-free) website under the Land Strategies section. To save you a click heres the mono black lands scryfall query. I use these very frequently to see what kinds of lands there are and then add some of them to my buy lists. Lands is usually the harder part of building decks both due to cost and trying to decide how many and of what. So I will do an article about this in the near future as well.

The Rotten Recipe

We already know about the Golden Recipe, and along with the initial strategy research, this step is quite easy (simply write your recipe down on some paper or in a google note somewhere):

Primary Strategies

  • 12 draw (including some tutors in here, and some massive draw spells)

  • 12 ramp (counter based mana rocks and creatures)

  • 12 removal (some repeatable removal, but all should be two for one or more effects)

  • 4 wraths (wipe and resurrect)

Secondary Strategies

  • 8 Resurrection/Recovery (repeatable, either to battlefield or hand)

  • 8 Zombie (or skeleton) Generators

  • 4 Lords of the Undead

  • 4 Playing with Life


  • Basic (snow)

  • Utility (sacrifice, extra mana, draw, zombies, recovery etc.)


  • Zombie Tribal

  • Sacrifice

  • Counters

  • Repeatable

  • Snow

Lets talk about the strategy a bit and some possible modifications we can try. Remember, this is the Golden Recipe, our starting point. We can still choose to change the totals to suit our hopes and dreams. The title of this article is "A Treatise on Reliably Raising the Dead", but if you remember back to the 12 Starting Hands Principle(link at the top of the article), it says good strategies contain 12 cards or more. Here, Resurrection is only 8 cards, so we could say its okay, but not good enough. There are a number of ways we can choose to change the recipe to improve the reliability of that strategy. We could:

  • Reduce card draw (as our commander has it built in)

  • Remove the janky Playing with Life strategy (its not particularly effective so we could take this out)

  • Remove the Wraths strategy (we have repeatable removal, and as we are playing tribal, maybe wraths will be less helpful?)

I think the most fun choice here is to keep the jank, but reduce wraths to 0. (Strategy Priority Principle explains that wraths while necessary, can be less fun if over used). We have to remain mindful of encountering out of control board states and not being able to handle them. Hopefully, our repeatable removal will put enough pressure on our opponents so that they can't develop board states beyond our control. We should also be wary of reducing card draw too much and being too reliable on our commander, especially as he costs 4 mana, and if removed early will be a potentially major set back. We can consider also that by increasing the reliability of our resurrection, that maybe losing our commander early won't be as much of a setback as if he goes to the graveyard we can easily get him back.

When considering by how much we need to adjust our strategy, we remember back to the Minimum Viable Strategy Principle, and this defines 4 cards as the minimum adjustment size. So our new adjusted recipe would look as follows:

Primary Strategies

  • 12 draw (including some tutors in here, and some massive draw spells)

  • 12 ramp (counter based mana rocks and creatures)

  • 12 removal (some repeatable removal, but all should be two for one or more effects)

  • 0 wraths (relying on resurrection to handle board wipe states)

Secondary Strategies

  • 12 Resurrection/Recovery (repeatable, either to battlefield or hand)

  • 8 Zombie (or skeleton) Generators

  • 4 Lords of the Undead

  • 4 Playing with Life

Its as easy as that. We didn't build the deck yet, but we have already made an adjustment to the recipe using all the principles outlined in the 8 by 8 EDH System.

Collecting the Corpses

Armed with our newly scribed deck recipe, we can now proceed on our deck building mission. There are many potential cards that could be put into our deck, and realistically, not everyone has massive collections and can so easily whip out all the cards you need. Luckily for us, the recipe doesn't tell us what specific cards we need just what their purposes are and how many of them we require. There are however some caveats to consider regarding some strategies:

  • limited card options (the strategy may be in reality, too limited eg. there are only so many zombie lord cards, so you specifically need these for the strategy to work or be made more reliable)

  • your collection is very large and it will take time to find all the cards (you know its time to reorganize... but you maybe aren't certain how?)

  • I have cards that fit into multiple strategies, which one do I assign it to?

I won't go into discussing how you get the cards you need, like buy boxes or singles or trading or proxying... that's its own article. Instead I will simply assume you have your ways of acquiring... the goods... in a way that makes you happy. I would simply ask you to hold off on buying new cards if you have some that do the job the recipe asks even if they are a bit sub optimal. Your goal here isn't building the perfect optimized deck, its instead, building the deck so it can be tested.

We so often fall into the trap of feeling embarrassed because we play Murder instead of Force of Despair, but this is simply you holding yourself back from having some fun. Learning what works and what doesn't is more important than hoping our new gleaming deck will be forever undefeated. Aim to first check if the strategies are balanced, and then invest in improvements. It will literally save you a ton of money, and its very likely you will still have fun while doing it. I understand some of you may have limited time to work on your decks or to play so you trying to squeeze the most out of the small amount of time you get... but lets be realistic. Dumping $1000 on cards only to find that the deck is terrible is gonna leave you with way more regrets, and I am willing to bet it was probably money you needed to use elsewhere and not on some fancy duals.

In my case for this deck, I already benefit from a specially structured collection that makes finding the cards I need much faster. My collection is organized by common strategies (ramp, removal, counterspells, recovery, wraths etc.) and then what's left over gets arranged by colour. I explain this in more detail in the Getting Organized section below. This type of organization means I minimize card searching and am able to assemble a playable deck in no time at all.

Limited Card Options

Using a strategy that is too general has issues, and likewise, strategies that are too specific have issues. Hopefully you will have already resolved this during the initial deck research and recipe design phase. If not, then remember to check this early to avoid realizing that there aren't enough cards to fit a reliable strategy. But there are ways to mitigate this problem, and the solution is simply tutors. Compensate by including a strategy segment of 4 tutors. This will improve the reliability of your deck. In black there are so many to choose from and most are reasonably cheap! Its also an easy way to increase a combo deck's power level, simply by investing in some more expensive cheap tutors (see what I did there eh?).

If this still doesn't work, consider swapping for an alternative strategy. Sometimes its not worth trying to force a strategy to work when its too limited. I had this issue with "buyback" cards and enchantments that bounce themselves in red and green recently. I still decided to proceed, and will have to add tutors later as its the obvious upgrade for that deck.

Getting Organized

I will start by saying that size definitely matters. I mean collection size. I always recommend separating commons and uncommons from rares and mythics. And if you are really into commander, pull out all your commander legendaries as well. I have mine organized in a couple files, and I don't care too much whether they are a specific rarity, all my legendary creatures and some planeswalkers that can be commanders are placed in these files and organized by colour identity.

Collection organization is a deep topic, and I will still do a more in-depth overview in a future article. For now here are some summaries of my experiences.

Smaller collections can benefit from colour and alphabetical sorting, and are often easy to navigate through to find pieces to add to a deck. You may feel tempted to sort by types as well, this hints at you that there is a better way, but its probably not so apparent yet.

Medium size collections should be sorted by colour and letter (this helps you monitor reprint quantities). Sorting alphabetically can be time consuming though, so consider sorting by only the first letter to save some time. You are probably using files at this point or just a few fat pack boxes or shoe boxes (old faithful). Its probably still easy enough to search your boxes to find things so this level of organization is probably sufficient. I will warn you at this point, if you know that you have developed a particular... habit... then your collection will begin swelling beyond what you can realistically sort alphabetically. Instead, if you want to save the pain of a switch, consider now already moving over to sorting by year. Cards before 2014 have really terrible UX design so often the dates are mostly illegible... so these require sorting by set instead.

Large size collections require very careful structuring. Some of us have... terrible habits. Organizing commons and uncommons by year and colour is the most convenient. When a new set comes out, and you are throwing your booster wrappers around like a greedy kid in a candy store, immediately split the colours into stacks, sleeve those babies right up and slip them straight into the corresponding box. For storage, I use large strong plastic boxes (for freight) that are big enough to house 15 years worth of a particular colour in commons and uncommons (maybe this is a meaningless metric), but its really helpful that the boxes are stackable and have lids. My rares, mythics and legendaries are all in files (the more valuable ones are in inner sleeves to protect them when pulling them out or putting them back in). I am finding, however, that I might prefer having the rares in boxes instead.

The great optimization trick: If you, like me, are addicted to building decks... then this is the most important optimization you can make with your collection. Get a bunch of card trays or bundle boxes and label them with strategies:

  • card draw

  • ramp

  • fixing