"The Black Rose doesn't tolerate weeds."
Marchesa, the Black Rose is a Conspiracy General with an amazing array of lordly abilities:
Dethrone is an amazing ability that adds a twist to multiplayer games since you get the value off this effect only when you attack the player with the most life. This is rather restrictive, if you think about it, since it takes off some of your control over how you are going to battle your opponents. Also, if you happen to be the player with the most life, Dethrone becomes completely useless.
Marchesa is a lordly general. This means that she bestows her own very special ability to other creatures. Her lordly effect gives Dethrone to all other creatures you control. The amazing thing about Dethrone is that you don't need to deal damage to your opponent in order to get the +1/+1 counter in your creature, but only declare an attack, regardless of the outcome of battle. Whys is this so important? Because of Marchesa's third ability.
Marchesa's third ability is by far her most important and interesting ability and this is why we are going to build our sample commander deck around it. She basically revives any creature that had a +1/+1 counter on it. There are a lot of ways to put +1/+1 counter on creatures, besides Dethrone, and we are going to take advantage of some of the most efficient ways out there in the history of Magic: the Gathering.
Marchesa can be played in a number of ways in Commander, but we are going to build around beatdown. For this, we need to identify the best sources of +1/+1 counters out there. These are what come to mind:
"You may have this creature enter the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it. It can't block as long as it has a +1/+1 counter on it."
Note how Exava will give Haste to most of your creatures. Also, Hellhole Flailer can be abused as a sniper or as a life fixer so you can Dethrone the player that you actually want to attack.
"When this creature dies, if it had no +1/+1 counter on it, return it to the battlefield under its owner's control with a +1/+1 counter on it."
These are probably some of your most important creatures. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed will give Undying to all other non-human creatures you control while Flayer of the Hatebound will life-burn your opponents with every single revival by Marchesa, Undying or Persist. The Hound and the Messenger are there for extra-firepower and life-fixing.
"When this creature is put into a graveyard from play, if it had no -1/-1 counters on it, return it to play under its owner's control with a -1/-1 counter on it."
How does Persist work with Marchesa's third ability?, you may ask. You must remember that +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters cancel each other out. This is a Magic: the Gathering rule. In other words, when a creature revived by Persist attacks while Marchesa is in your side of the battlefield, Dethrone will trigger and it will place a +1/+1 counter on the creature, which will be automatically canceled-out by the -1/-1 counter place on it by Persist. The creature may die, but it will revive again because of Persist since it had no -1/-1 counters on it by the time it went to the graveyard.
River Kelpie and Glen Elendra Archmage will give you a LOT of value out of your revival mechanics. Puppeteer Clique can be used to exile undesirable threats from a graveyard and Murderous Redcap to manage life and enable Dethrone with the right opponent.
Other Sources of +1/+1 counters
There are other unconventional sources of +1/+1 counters.
Grave Betrayal and Unspeakable Symbol are probably two of your most important spells in a Marchesa Commander deck. The first lets you repeatedly revive opposing creature by automatically giving them a +1/+1 counter while the later ensure that any creature going to a graveyard can revive from Marchesa's third ability by putting on it a +1/+1 counter at the expense of your own life. Another interesting aspect of Unspeakable Symbol is that it enables Dethrone by lowering your own life. This is very useful when you are the player with the most life.
These four beasts were made for Marchesa. You could say they are her favorite playmates. They put on their own +1/+1 counters and make amazing things in the process, like life-burn, creature destruction, cloning and loads of damage, all while Marchesa ensures that they stay immortal.
These are the lesser buddies that also put on their own +1/+1 counters. They are not that mana or color-intensive as Blood Tyrant or Thraximundar and they play the role of your immortal defensive pals just before you cast Marchesa during your fourth turn.
Here is another fundamental spell for any Marchesa brew. Oona's Blackguard's first ability is not very relevant to our deck, but her second ability is paramount. She will make any of your creatures with a +1/+1 counter a Raven's Crime on legs. Dethrone, Undying and Unleash all enable this little critter. In other words, this little two-mana spell will be one of your most disruptive elements.
Enablers, Abusers and Winning Conditions
Some unassuming spells look like they were made to play with Marchesa.
Cyclops Gladiator can take out an X/5 creature with him AND revive back with Marchesa or Mikaeus. Ogre Battledriver gives haste and +2/+0 to your creatures, maximizing your beatdown output.
These two oddities will give you a strong controlling element with Dethrone. Duplicant can exile creatures each time it revives while Draining Whelk can be both a huge damage-dealer and counter-magic when sacrificed to Attrition, Grimgrin and Tymaret:
The primordial trio is insanely powerful when recurred, revived, blinked or flickered. The three cards from above can abuse them while Marchesa or Mikaeus is on the battlefield.
Other stuff that can be flicked and repeatedly revived for additional profit:
These two creatures will help you enable additional effects and damage when a creature returns to play from the graveyard or is flickered, adding value to Marchesa's third ability:
Vela is particularly important because she gives evasion to everybody. This means that your big guys can ram directly into your opponents life while getting the Dethrone bonus.
TutorsUse these tutor to search for important spells, like River Kelpie, Oona's Blackguard, Unspeakable Symbol, Vela the Night-Clad and Flayer of the Hatebound.
This deck uses a lot of big spells, so you need a solid mana base and a series of artifacts that can accelerate and fix your mana color building.
Here is a series of spells that will help you react to several situations.
Rakdos Charm can shut off graveyard based mechanics and infinite token combos at instant speed. Dimir Chamr can brake one-mana tutors and gives you the option of removal or countermagic. The three-mana Charms are less situation-specific, but they give you a variety of removal that can deal with several different threats.
Spell Crumble and Hinder are basic countermagic in most Commander decks because they let you put a General into its owner's deck, completely shutting it off for quite a while.
These three sorceries are here because of their raw, brutal power in Commander. Insurrection steals games all by itself, Damnation turns the table at the cheapest mana-price and Cruel Ultimatum basically removes a player from the competition without killing him/her off.
When Marchesa is in play, Heat Stroke will clean the board every time you go through your battle phase while reviving your own creatures. Warstorm Surge is just ludicrous when you get to revive your own creatures again and again and again...
LandsThis is a Grixis Commander deck. This means we are playing Blue, Black and Red:
As for the mana-base, we need a solid variety of duals and multicolored lands to fulfill our three-color General's demands. As a rule, you need the full suite of golden and dual-colored lands:
Include all the dual-land cycles that are practical for Commander:
Basic Duals (Core Sets and Innistrad)
Pain Lands (10th Edition)
Guild Lands (Ravnica)
Tainted Lands (if you are playing swamps)
Blue and Black
Black and Red
Red and Blue
There also several utility lands that we want to have in our mana-base:
Urborg will help you enable Tainted Isle and Tainted Peak. Also, you may want to try the Cabal Coffers combo with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.
Here is a sample deck list for your reference:
1x Marchesa, the Black Rose
1x Beseech the Queen
1x Blood Crypt
1x Blood Tyrant
1x Carnival Hellsteed
1x Cascade Bluffs
1x Chaos Imps
1x Chromatic Lantern
1x Command Tower
1x Crosis's Charm
1x Cruel Ultimatum
1x Crumbling Necropolis
1x Cyclops Gladiator
1x Dack's Duplicate
1x Darkwater Catacombs
1x Deadeye Navigator
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Diluvian Primordial
1x Dimir Aqueduct
1x Dimir Charm
1x Dimir Signet
1x Dragonskull Summit
1x Draining Whelk
1x Drowned Catacomb
1x Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
1x Flayer of the Hatebound
1x Geralf's Messenger
1x Glen Elendra Archmage
1x Grave Betrayal
1x Grave Pact
1x Graven Cairns
1x Grimgrin, Corpse-Born
1x Grixis Charm
1x Heat Stroke
1x Hellhole Flailer
1x Hound of Griselbrand
1x Increasing Ambition
1x Izzet Boilerworks
1x Izzet Signet
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
1x Minamo, School at Water's Edge
1x Molten Primordial
1x Murderous Redcap
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1x Obelisk of Grixis
1x Ogre Battledriver
1x Oona's Blackguard
1x Puppeteer Clique
1x Rakdos Carnarium
1x Rakdos Charm
1x Rakdos Signet
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Reliquary Tower
1x River Kelpie
1x Rockslide Elemental
1x Rune-Scarred Demon
1x Sepulchral Primordial
1x Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
1x Shivan Reef
1x Shizo, Death's Storehouse
1x Sol Ring
1x Solemn Simulacrum
1x Spell Crumple
1x Steam Vents
1x Sulfur Falls
1x Sulfurous Spring
1x Sunken Ruin
1x Tainted Isle
1x Tainted Peak
1x Taurean Mauler
1x Tymaret, the Murder King
1x Underground River
1x Unspeakable Symbol
1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1x Vampiric Tutor
1x Vela the Night-Clad
1x Warstorm Surge
1x Watery Grave
Dethrone the reigning player with the Black Rose!