Geralf, Visionary Stitcher had me at “Zombies you control have flying.” Sure, there have been flying Zombies in Magic the Gathering before, and you’ve been able to make any creature fly since the beginning of the game. But, a Legendary Creature who literally makes your Zombies fly, that’s new. Add to that Geralf is an iconic character already, and you have probably my favorite card from the entire Innistrad: Crimson Vow set.
Magic players are raving about the possibilities for Geralf, Visionary Stitcher. Granted, mono-Blue Zombies doesn’t sound like a plausible deck in Commander, but wait, there’s more to Geralf than delivering a flying Zombie apocalypse onto the battlefield. He has an activated ability, as well, costing a single Blue mana and tapping him to activate. It’s similar to his sister Ghoulcaller Gisa’s ability, in that you sacrifice a creature to get a Zombie token. But, where as Gisa made a ton of little Zombie tokens based on the sacrificed creature’s power, Geralf makes one big Zombie token based on the sacrificed creature’s toughness.
The only downside to Geralf’s Zombie creature token creation is that you can’t sacrifice nontoken creatures. Obviously, this is so you can’t sacrifice the decayed Zombie tokens debuted in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. Decayed tokens must be sacrificed at the end of combat whenever they attack. However, because Geralf gives them flying, they suddenly have significantly more value. Also, his own tokens don’t have decayed, nor do they come into play tapped like many other Zombie token creators.
On a five-mana 3 / 4 Human Wizard creature, these two abilities make Geralf, Visionary Stitcher an easy include in existing Zombie deck shells. It’s more than worth splashing Blue mana in an otherwise Mono-Black deck to make him work, plus most Zombie Commander decks exist in Blue and Black combinations anyway, thanks to other popular Commanders such as Gisa and Geralf. However, because of his interesting ability to create Zombie tokens based on toughness, there’s a much different, and perhaps much more competitive way to go.
Enter the Crabs. Of course, Crabs have been competitive in Magic the Gathering for a while, thanks to the Hedron Crab, a key staple in Mill decks ever since the days of original Zendikar. There’s also Ruin Crab, who serves a similar function. Both Crabs have Landfall triggers that put card’s from the top of your opponent’s library into the graveyard. But these in particular are not the Crabs we’re interested in. What’s special about Crabs is that many of them tend to have very high points of toughness relative to their mana cost. Even Ruin Crab from Zendikar Rising has 3 toughness for a single Blue mana to cast. While there are Crabs that are much more balanced in power and toughness, we’re interested in those that have ridiculously high toughness.
Perhaps the toughest Crab of all is Charix, the Raging Isle, himself also from Zendikar Rising. For just four mana, you get a creature with zero power, but seventeen toughness. On top of that, he’s not even a bad creature, with an early version of Ward 2, meaning spells your opponents cast that target Charix cost two more generic mana to cast. He can even sacrifice a point of toughness for a point of power, at the cost of three generic mana for each point, but still, it’s a solid second ability.
So, yes, you can sacrifice a copy of Charix to create a 17/17 Zombie token that flies as long as Geralf, Visionary Stitcher is in play. Even better, Geralf’s tap ability can be used at instant speed, meaning that you can sacrifice a creature at the end of your opponent’s turn or in response to removal. Being that Charix is already tough to remove, it’s likely you’ll be able to keep Charix around for a couple of turns while you set up Visionary Stitcher.
The funny thing is that Charix, the Raging Isle was actually a playable creature during Theros: Beyond Death Standard, thanks to the combination of the cheap Auras Sentinel’s Eyes and Solid Footing. Sentinel’s Eyes gives a creature +1/+1 and vigilance, whereas Solid Footing gives a creature with vigilance the ability to assign combat damage by the creature’s toughness rather than its power. We’ve seen decks that make it so creatures assign combat damage by their toughness before, thanks to a wide variety of cards with similar effects. But, Saffron Olive built a One-Shot Charix deck for Against the Odds, and it won three out of five matches.
Alas, such a deck is no longer possible in Standard. But, Charix and Geralf, Visionary Stitcher will share a common Standard format for an entire year. With Geralf’s ability, even a lowly common creature such as the single Blue mana Aegis Turtle becomes playable thanks to having five toughness. Unfortunately, Standard no longer has a five toughness one-drop in Blue or Black, and the four toughness creatures aren’t too good, either. Then again, creatures with Defender can’t attack, but they would be sacrificed anyway. Still, who wants to play bad cards?
You could, however, play Blue & White rather than Blue and Black, to take advantage of Giant Ox, a two mana 0 / 6. There’s also Flumph, which while it’s a Defender and can’t attack, it’s a 0 / 4 flyer, that when it’s dealt damage draws both you and an opponent a card. There’s also Secret Door, a one-drop with four toughness and no power, but it’s a Defender that just gives you the option to venture into the Dungeon for 5 mana. It’s not really playable at all unless you’re a Venture deck.
The good news is, you could literally play a Blue/Black Zombie deck in Standard with Geralf, and simply include Charix, the Raging Isle. It’s an extremely functional wall anyway. Also Dimir Zombies in November 2021 Standard could easily make room for both a couple copies of Charix and several copies of Geralf, Visionary Stitcher. He plays extremely well with the decayed tokens created by Tainted Adversary and friends, thanks to his granting flying to said tokens.
Once you leave Standard, however, the choices for creatures to play alongside Geralf, Visionary Stitcher multiplies immensely. In Modern, you could play a bad Crab tribal deck, as there are enough high toughness Crabs to make Geralf, Visionary Stitcher an efficient token creation engine. But, the better idea is to focus on high-toughness creatures. Modern gives us Aegis Crab, Kraken Hatchling, Merfolk Secretkeeper, Surge Mare in Blue, but also a few creatures in White such as the one-mana Lagonna-Band Trailblazer, Perimeter Captain, and Yoked Ox, plus two mana Nyx-Fleece Ram and Wall of Omens, and three mana Wall of Resurgence. For artifact creatures, there’s good old Spellskite for two mana and four toughness, who also happens to be great protection for Geralf!
Perhaps the most interesting and explosive way to go, however, is to go all in on the highest toughness creatures in the game in Blue, Black, and Green. These include Charix, of course, but also the Trees from past incarnations of Innistrad. These are Tree of Redemption and Tree of Perdition. Each has 13 toughness for 4 mana, but more importantly, they allow you to swap life totals with the Tree’s toughness. Tree of Redemption trades your own life total with it, while Tree of Perdition swaps its toughness with your opponent’s life total. Tree of Perdition can absolutely punish infinite life combos like we’ve seen in Modern with Vizier of Remedies and Devoted Druid. More importantly, the Trees can keep you alive to set up your final blow. This type of deck could also use Overgrown Battlement and Wall of Roots to ramp your mana.
In Commander, while Crab Tribal would be funny, it’s not really feasible without playing a ton of Changelings to act as additional Crabs. Mono-Blue Walls might be funny, although probably not at all competitively viable. Mono-Blue Zombies, on the other hand, has 45 creatures available not including those from Innistrad: Crimson Vow. With lots of support such as the enchantment Rooftop Storm to play your Zombies for free, that’s actually a viable deck for Geralf, Visionary Stitcher to lead. Of course, it’s most likely most of the play for the Visionary Stitcher will be in a supporting role for other existing Zombie commanders. There’s also a strong possibility he sees play in Phenax, God of Deception decks, thanks to most mill creatures having higher toughness than power, giving you an alternate way to finish off the game besides simply milling out all of your opponents.
While there are likely cards to be much more powerful and explosive than Geralf, Visionary Stitcher in Innistrad: Crimson Vow, he’s easily my favorite card from the set for one simple reason: he makes Zombies fly! Of course, while the evasion is nice, it’s easily his activated ability to create huge Zombie tokens that makes him truly excellent. Those tokens, plus the evasion he gives them, should make Geralf, Visionary Stitcher a great way to finish the game for a variety of decks. This is one Human Wizard that will easily see a lot of play in Magic the Gathering for years to come.