Magic: The Gathering — Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

Step aside sheriff, there’s a new skeleton army in town.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

In the shadowy plane of Innistrad, Gisa Cecani wages an endless war with her brother, Geralf, using the corpses of the dead as their armies. In Magic: The Gathering's western world of Thunder Junction, she's building her own gang of undead ne'er-do-well to go on a crime spree across the desert. Armed with her trusty shovel and childlike sense of adventure, the only treasure she's looking for is a good time.

Single-colored commander decks can be a little tricky, but black is an excellent choice, offering almost everything available to other colors, as long as you're willing to pay the price. And when you've got an ever-growing army of undead outlaws, you'll be able to do whatever you want.

The Commander

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

Gisa, the Hellraiser is a mono-black legendary Human Warlock with power and toughness of four and the ward keyword. In previous cards, Gisa was a Wizard but trades in her Wizard type for Warlock to synergize with the outlaw mechanic introduced in Outlaws of Thunder Junction. She retains her mono-black color identity and picks up some new abilities that make her a uniquely strong mono-colored commander, able to both create and empower an army of undead while also protecting herself from removal.

Her ward ability will counter any spell an opponent targets her with unless they pay the ward cost of two mana and two life. This makes her a little tricky to remove, both because it requires opponents to invest more mana into getting her off the battlefield and because it forces them to spend their own life to do so. This will be especially problematic if you respond with any of the black instants that will return her to play immediately after she's destroyed, forcing your opponent to think carefully before they make another attempt.

Gisa, the Hellraiser has a static ability that buffs your Skeletons and Zombies by +1/+1, making her an effective undead lord. She also gives them menace, requiring your opponent to declare two blockers for every attacker that you declare. This will become a problem for them, since Gisa is also capable of creating an entire army of Zombies with her final ability.

Gisa's last ability nets you two 2/2 blue and black Zombie Mercenary creature tokens each time you commit a crime. This could be a game-breaking ability, except for the limiting clause that you can only trigger the ability once per turn. However, with four players at a normal Commander table, it should be reasonably simple to commit a crime each turn, allowing you to untap six new Zombie Mercenaries on your next turn.

Building The Deck

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

Gisa heavily incentivizes committing crimes, which means targeting opponents, things they control, and stuff in their graveyards. It rewards you with an ever-growing army of Zombies that you can use to attack or as cannon fodder for various combos.

The problem that you may encounter is that a lot of black spells that count as crimes, like Murder, cost mana and have to be played from your hand, reducing the number of options you have to commit crimes later. If you cast one instant per opponent in order to trigger her effect, you'll need to keep at least three mana available and be able to draw three extra cards per turn, which is a significant resource cost.

This problem can be significantly reduced by packing your deck with permanents that can trigger the crime check at instant-speed for little or no mana. Since Gisa will provide two new Zombie Mercenaries every turn that you commit a crime, costs can include sacrificing a creature and still earn you a net increase of creatures on the battlefield.

Gisa buffs both Zombies and Skeletons, so you may be tempted to play both. Unfortunately, there's a pretty bare-bones selection of Skeletons, and they're usually underwhelming. While a few, like Reassembling Skeleton and Skeleton Crew are excellent combo enablers, Zombies have so many more options and so much more support that they should be the meat of your creatures if you lean into a type.


Black doesn't have access to any land ramp spells, but there are a ton of useful artifacts to speed up your game, especially as you start creating Zombie tokens.

Phyrexian Altar, and its little brother, Ashnod's Altar, offer outlets to sacrifice creatures in exchange for mana. These Altars don't tap when used, meaning that you can turn your whole battleground into a mana battery to cast massive spells. These mana sources are often overlooked by opponents, so you may catch them by surprise when they think you're tapped out, only for you to sacrifice a couple of Zombies to respond to their play.

Crowded Crypt is a three-mana rock that taps for one black and also stores your dead creatures in the form of corpse counters. Later on, it can be sacrificed to create a 2/2 black Zombie token for each counter. These tokens are decayed, so you'll need to sacrifice them after combat, but you can use this to bank Zombies for later turns, especially if you're planning on sacrificing a lot of them.

You can sacrifice all of your Zombies for mana in response to a board wipe, then sacrifice Crowded Crypt at the end of the turn and be ready to attack across an empty field.

Nyx Lotus is a little expensive at four colorless mana, but it taps for mana equal to your devotion to the color of your choice. In mono-colored decks, devotion can get high enough for this one card to fuel your whole turn. The longer the game goes on, the more useful it will be, so try to protect it.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

In addition to mana rocks, you'll also benefit enormously from reducing the cost of your spells. Jet Medallion should be an auto-include for any mono-black deck, and this is no exception. If you lean heavily into the Zombie theme and include a lot of creature spells, Bontu's Monument or Heartless Summoning will help even more.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

One of the biggest advantages to building mono-colored decks is that you can include a lot of basic lands and not worry about mana fixing. Black has a huge advantage with Cabal Coffers, which provides one black mana for every Swamp that you control. Try not to play it too early, though: It won't put you ahead in mana until you control at least three Swamps.


Black excels at drawing cards, with lots of options to trade life for card advantage, like Phyrexian Altar, another staple in mono-black decks. Since those options are so abundant, we'll focus on options that are a little more permanent and synergize directly with Gisa.

If the deck is doing its job, you should be making Zombie tokens every turn, so you'll always be able to use Idol of Oblivion's first ability to simply tap and draw a card. It only costs two generic mana to play, so you can get it in early and start drawing soon after. The second ability, where you sacrifice it and create a 10/10 Eldrazi token, is just a bonus.

Morbid Opportunist is a 1/3 Human Rogue who draws you a card whenever any other creature dies, but only once per turn. If you're playing with a sacrifice engine like the Altars mentioned earlier, this puts you in control, allowing you to sacrifice a creature to draw a card if none of your opponents' creatures died in a turn.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

Cryptbreaker could be one of your best draw engines in a Gisa deck, allowing you to tap any three Zombies to draw one card and lose one life. It's a Zombie itself, so you can tap it and two of your Zombie tokens. There's no speed restriction, so you can use this to draw cards at the end of your third opponent's turn, right before you untap. You could even block with your Zombies and then tap them, getting some extra card draw before they die.

Criminal Activity

Gisa is a Warlock. Warlocks are criminals. Criminals need to commit crimes. So let's take a look at easy crimes to commit with Gisa.

There are several artifacts that tap to target an opponent or something that they control, often for free. Liquidmetal Torque is a perfect piece of jewelry for Gisa, serving as a mana rock that can tap for one colorless mana or tap to turn any creature into an artifact for a turn. Early on, you'll want it for mana, and later, you'll be able to tap it to commit a victimless crime and gain Zombie tokens. Liquimetal Coating has almost the same secondary effect but no mana production.

Attrition is an enchantment that allows you to pay one black mana and sacrifice a creature to destroy any nonblack creature. You can do this as many times as you want, but the first time you do it in a turn with Gisa in play, you'll get two Zombies to replace the token you sacrificed. If you also have Phyrexian Altar in play, you can sacrifice one Zombie for black mana and a second one to Attrition, destroying a creature and getting both Zombie tokens back.

Realmbreaker, the Invasion Tree, only costs two colorless mana to tap and forces one opponent to mill three cards. Then you can choose any land in their graveyard and put it into play tapped under your control. This works as another source of mana acceleration, as well as committing crimes and filling your opponents' graveyards in case you want to lean into reanimation effects.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

Embalmer's Tools is a flavorful addition that will further fill your opponents' graveyards, this time by tapping your own Zombies to mill cards. The first ability, reducing the cost of activated abilities of creatures in your graveyard, might not see much use, but you'll be glad for it when you start trying to abuse your Reassembling Skeleton.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

Altar of Dementia has a similar mill effect but requires you to sacrifice a creature. Your opponent then mills cards equal to the sacrificed creature's power. This is another good way to fill up a graveyard and can even be used to mill yourself in preparation for a big Living Death combo.

Deck Tech

Black decks that focus on Zombie tokens and graveyard interactions can be incredibly diverse. You probably won't want to include every combo and synergy you find, because you'd quickly run out of room. Nevertheless, here are a few of our favorite pieces of tech.

Gravecrawler is a great addition since you can play it from your graveyard if you control a Zombie. With Phyrexian Altar in play, you can keep sacrificing and playing it to continually trigger enter the battlefield effects. This makes Gravecrawler a vital piece of many black combos.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed synergizes well with the deck, bringing all of your non-Human creatures back from the dead as long as they don't have any +1/+1 counters and giving all of those same creatures an additional +1/+1. Finding a way to remove counters can mean that your creatures will keep coming back forever!

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Gravecrawler, and Phyrexian Altar form a simple infinite black mana combo. First, sacrifice Gravecrawler for one black mana and let the undying effect from Mikaeus bring it back with a +1/+1 counter. Then sacrifice it again for a second black mana and play it from your graveyard.

Grave Pact will probably make you the table's archenemy. This enchantment forces each opponent to sacrifice a creature whenever one of your own creatures dies. If you're sacrificing your disposable Zombie tokens, your opponents will barely be able to get a creature into play before they're forced to sacrifice it. You may want to hold this in your hand until someone plays a creature with Hexproof or Indestructible that would otherwise be a big problem for the whole table.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

While there isn't much support for Skeletons, Zombies have a ton. There are nine Zombie lords, including Gisa, the Hellraiser, and one enchantment, each providing a stat boost to your Zombies. Undead Warchief is probably the best outside of Gisa, providing all Zombies with +2/+1 and reducing the casting cost of all your Zombie spells by one colorless mana.

Magic: The Gathering - Gisa, The Hellraiser Commander Deck Guide

Endless Ranks of the Dead will ensure that your Zombie army keeps on growing, getting 50 percent bigger each turn. It's a good reason to keep a handful of Zombies in play, just to refresh your reserves in a pinch.

One more great way to grow your Zombie army is with Gisa herself. Ghoulcaller Gisa lets you sacrifice a creature to create 2/2 black Zombie tokens equal to that creature's power. So one 2/2 Zombie will turn into two 2/2 Zombies.

Coat of Arms can make this even faster: One 2/2 Zombie is sacrificed to get two 2/2 Zombies, which each get +1/+1 from Coat of Arms, making them 3/3. Sacrifice one to Ghoulcaller Gisa, and you'll get three more Zombies, making all five in play into 6/6 creatures.

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