Recently I have seen a rise in popularity of “French” EDH in my local meta. French, or Duel commander, is a variant of EDH meant to be played exclusively in 1v1 matches. Games are best two out of three, life totals begin at 30 and the ban list is slightly different than normal Commander. Oppressive cards like [mtg_Card]Cataclysm[/mtg_card] are banned, as well as some of the top tier commanders such as Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Oddly enough, other cards which are banned in multiplayer EDH are perfectly legal in French. Which cards you ask? Well, cards like Griselbrand. I’ve had a pristine, pack-pulled copy of Gris since Avacyn Restored was still Standard legal and it has sat in my “not for trade” binder since I pulled it. Finally ol’ Griseldaddy has a home and I couldn’t be happier with the deck. While I have featured a Mono Black deck in a previous article, I have never built one myself. Because the deck is aimed at dueling a single opponent, Black’s spot removal and discard becomes much more powerful. So powerful in fact that it’s pretty much all I included in the list.

Planeswalkers: 3
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Liliana Vess
Sorin Markov

Creatures: 19
Pack Rat
Vampire Nighthawk
Fleshbag Marauder
Royal Assassin
Desecration Demon
Crypt Ghast
Liliana’s Reaver
Erebos, God of the Dead
Shimian Specter
Magus of the Abyss
Indulgent Tormentor
Drana, Kalastria Bloodcheif
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Bloodgift Demon
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Massacre Wurm
Reaper from the Abyss
Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis
Sheoldred, Whispering One

Instants: Sorceries: 36
Dark Ritual
Inquisition of Kozilek
Raven’s Crime
Appetite for Brains
Tragic Slip
innocent Blood
Devour Flesh
Geth’s Verdict
Tyrant’s Choice
Specter’s Wail
Diabolic Edict
Bile Blight
Drain Life
Hymn to Tourach
Drown in Sorrow
Sudden Spoiling
Hero’s Downfall
Night Terrors
Perish the Thought
Toxic Deluge
Sign in Blood
Consuming Vapors
Diabolic Tutor
Beacon of Unrest
Increasing Ambition
Life’s Finale
Nightmare Incursion
Death Wind
Profane Command
Black Sun’s Zenith

Enchantments: 5
Animate Dead
Tainted Aether
Leyline of the Void

Artifacts: 1

Lands: 35
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Cabal Coffers
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Temple of the False God
Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper
Crypt of Agadeem
Swamp x29

The Good: The deck gives us all the tools we need to control the board in the early game. Hand disruption plus cheap removal means our opponent has a hard time playing anything and getting it to stick. Once we hit 8 mana and can cast Griselbrand, we get a brand new hand and can keep applying pressure.

The Bad: So far I have had issues closing the game. Even though the deck can troll someone turn after turn, Griselbrand is our main win-con and if he gets hit by removal it’s gonna take a few more turns to get him back online. I’m also looking into more ways to gain life so that I don’t have to worry about going too low when drawing cards off of Griselbrand’s ability. Sometimes he eats a removal spell immediately after being cast so we just have to pay the 7 life for our new hand rather than getting in for some Lifelink damage.

Key Cards: Every edict or discard spell is relevant and most of the creatures are quite impactful on the board. Obviously the best card is Cabal Coffers since it gives us such a boost in mana.

So how did the deck do? I had barely assembled the list in time for play, let alone test even a single hand. In a pod of 6 people we split up into pairs and I sat down across the table from a Captain Sisay deck. I have never played against Sisay but I went into the game fully aware that she is a tier 1 deck and not something to be taken lightly. Game 1 went pretty well since there wasn’t a single thing my opponent could play that I allowed to live. Finally he got a Mistveil Plains into play and saw his opening to play Akroma’s Memorial. This allowed him to land Sisay, tutor up Avacyn and Sigarda and the game slipped through my fingers. Game two went much the same way and since I didn’t have the Black Leyline in the deck to get rid of his graveyard at the time, there wasn’t much I could do to stop him from tutoring and re-tutoring his better cards in the deck. Still I made him earn that pack, trolling everything he tried to draw or play. I couldn’t stop laughing for most of the game and my opponent walked up to collect his winnings while shaking his head and muttering “I had to pay 12 to cast Sisay the last time…”.

Overall the deck needs a lot of tweaking, especially if it’s going to combat decks that are so well positioned against Mono Black (Sigarda and Avacyn make it pretty hard to remove things from the field and Akroma’s Memorial is almost as good as Iona in most instances). I still had a ton of fun playing the list and even after a single game of French, I’m excited to play more of the format. I enjoyed only having one opponent to worry about and cards that usually wouldn’t be exciting to play (Thoughtseize) become very relevant. Even though I lost my first game with the deck, I see why Griselbrand is worth banning in multiplayer EDH. I’m certainly going to be looking for more powerful creature inclusions like Phyrexian Obliterator to apply more pressure and tweak some of the discard spells. As much as I like Inquisition of Kozilek and Appetite for Brains, they are a little situational and the potential to whiff is definitely there. I’d also like to upgrade my sweepers to something more powerful like Damnation.

Khans of Tarkir is almost upon us and this set is shaping up to be every bit as powerful as a Fall set should be. Next month’s article will be a set review since there’s still too little in terms of spoilers to predict much about the set but if you haven’t seen the new Sarkhan planeswalker, do yourself a favor and get to Googling. Hope to see you all at either Nu Games Arcata for some multiplayer EDH or at the new Eureka location for French duels!