Athreos, God of Passage is a 5/4 for a generic, a white, and a black. Like the rest of the Theros gods he is indestructible and is only a creature when your devotion to black and white is seven or higher. His unique ability allows you to return any creature to your hand when it dies and goes to the graveyard unless an opponent, of your choice, pays 3 life. In a 4 player game of Commander you can target the player with the lowest life total which will almost always ensure that you get your creatures back. Note that the life loss from Athreos is not damage so it doesn’t count as commander damage. If at some point in some games everyone has a high life total and you are having a hard time dealing damage or making your opponents lose life, you can throw in some powerful reanimation spells, more on those later. The way I see it, there are two ways to build around Athreos, God of Passage.
The first and most basic way to build around Athreos, God of Passage is a Shadowborn deck. Shadowborn Apostle is a 1/1 for a single black mana. You can have as many copies of it in your deck as you want and you can pay 1 black mana and sacrifice six of them to search your library for a Demon creature and put it onto the battlefield. This puts your opponent in a tough position, do they pay up to 18 life to keep those Shadowborn Apostles in the graveyard, or do they let you get them back so you can replay them and sacrifice them again to get another Demon into play? Shadowborn Apostle is a common card, but it was only printed in M14 and it has not seen a reprinting since. Due to the fact that each deck can have as many copies of Shadowborn Apostle as it wants, the supply is more limited than one might think. As of the time of this post they are about $4-$5 each so 30-50 copies for this version of the deck will cost anywhere between $120-$250. That doesn’t sound like much, but being a common that is highly sought after and the fact that it doesn’t see too much play in traditional formats like Modern and Legacy, it’s quite expensive for a casual common. It doesn’t even see play in Pauper because all of the good Demons are rares and mythics. I just threw in the picture of Shadowborn Demon because this was the Demon meant to go with Shadowborn Apostle, but you can use any demons that you want, except Griselbrand because he is banned in Commander.
The other way to build Athreos, God of Passage is more of an aristocrats build. Aristocrats revolves around creatures that deal damage to an opponent when one of your creature dies and they will usually die by being sacrificed and then brought back, mostly with Athreos. The creatures that deal the damage to the opponent for creatures dying are Falkenrath Noble, Cruel Celebrant, Blood Artist, and Zulaport Cutthroat. There is also Bastion of Remembrance, but that is an enchantment. All of them are classic examples of cards found in the aristocrat archetype, but these alone will not fill out the deck. This is commander after all so you will want more bonuses for sacrificing creatures.
Since this will be a creature based deck, why not have a way to generate more creatures, especially when it involves your creatures dying? Open the Graves makes a 2/2 Zombie token whenever a nontoken creature dies (not enters the graveyard so you get a zombie whether or not your opponent pays). Xathrid Necromancer also makes a 2/2 Zombie token, but only when a Human creature dies (again dies, not enters the graveyard so your opponent can’t stop this trigger by paying), so be careful with that one. All of these tokens won’t trigger off of each other or other triggers that require a nontoken creature to die, but it’s nice to replace your sacrificed creatures with something so you are not really losing a creature. You can also take advantage of some enter the battlefield triggers as well. Ayara, First of Locthwain functions as the above cards, but only when a black creature enters the battlefield. She can also tap and sacrifice a creature to draw you a card. With Dictate of Erebos and/or Grave Pact in play, you can force your opponents to also sacrifice creatures when you sacrifice a creature which is much more meaningful than making them lose 1 life while you gain 1 life.
You can generate some insane mana advantage with Black Market which can enable some big spells very quickly. Grim Haruspex draws you a card when a nontoken creature dies. Revel in Riches makes a treasure token when an opponents creature dies and then if you control 20 or more treasure tokens, you win the game. This really only works when Dictate of Erebos or other similar cards are in play, but with you sacrificing one creature, your opponents have to sacrifice one which will generate 3 treasure tokens for you with that one sacrifice. Oketra’s Monument makes more tokens when creatures come into play and Bontu’s Monument gives you another aristocrat effect. Those monuments also offer some cost reduction for your creatures.
So far I’ve talked about all kinds of payoffs for sacrificing creatures, but no ways to sacrifice them. Ashnod’s Altar is a classic sacrifice outlet as it generates two colorless mana per creature that you sacrifice to it. Viscera Seer and Woe Strider let you sacrifice a creature to scry 1. Yahenni, Undying Partisan lets you sacrifice a creature to make her indestructible; she also gets a +1/+1 counter when an opponent’s creature dies. While it’s not technically a sacrifice outlet like the other cards, Skull Clamp instantly kills any creature with 1 toughness and draws you two cards.
The creatures that will be sacrificed need to have some kind of value when they die or come back into play. Solemn Simulacrum is a good example to begin with. When it comes into play you get to ramp, and then when it dies you get to draw a card. Orzhov Enforcer creates a 1/1 Spirit creature when it dies using its afterlife ability. Fleshbag Marauder, Plaguecrafter, and Merciless Executioner all cause each player to sacrifice a creature when they come into play. These are just a few ideas, but you can ultimately use whatever you want as your sacrificial fodder.
One last thing to consider are mass reanimation spells, spells that can bring back more than one creature. Immortal Servitude, Rise of the Dark Realms, and Command the Dreadhorde should get you a good number of creatures into play. Living Death can help rebuild your board state after a board wipe, and that would be the only time I recommend using it. If you use it while your aristocrats are in play, they will wind up in the graveyard. Of course you can get them back with the other cards, but still I would be careful using this one.
Athreos, God of Passage has better synergies with black cards than white cards. I certainly leaned closer to a mono black build rather than an orzhov build. In truth, Athreos, God of Passage is one of the gods that I actually like from Theros. Which Theros god is your favorite and which one do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments down below.