Hello, readers!  Last week, I spelled out the progression of events that led me to start a ground-up overhaul of my mono-black Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed decklist.  Today, we’re going to stick to business for the most part, looking at Xiahou Dun himself and analyzing what strategies will benefit from him the most.  From there, we’ll discuss the issues that will pop up before finishing for the day.
First off, a little house-keeping-
GENCON PLANS
Right off the bat, there’s a new poll up.  Please weigh in – multiple options can be selected on this one, and I really want your feedback.
What’s on tap already –
Dear Azami, GenCon-style
I’m going to be doing a GenCon edition of my Dear Azami column for StarCityGames.com.  During the extended weekend, the GDC crew is going to be open for people to catch up to us and propose their decks on-site for an overhaul that will be written up and featured in my next column on SCG.  Kind of a “Dear Azami LIVE!” type of deal.  I’m excited about this, because it lets me break down the barriers and get face-time with my readers, and it allows for more immediate input from everyone involved.  For once, you’re not just stuck with the changes that show up in the final article; you can help sculpt the way things end up. 
There are more details to follow, so stay tuned on this one.
-GDC at GenCon
GDC will be representing with a crew this year, and I’m really excited to document the process all the way.  I want to involve readers as much as possible too.  I’ve got a million ideas going through my mind here – some casual EDH gaming with us, possibly some challenges for prizes, scavenger hunts, drafts…there’s a ton of potential space to examine here, and my iPad is going to be in-hand the whole time; if you come across us, you’ll probably end up on the site. 
So vote in the poll, and keep suggestions coming.  I’m up for anything here, folks!
DUDE, IS HE EATING HIS OWN EYEBALL?!?!?
Let’s start with the man of the hour:
The current Oracle wording:

Legendary Creature — Human Soldier 3/2, 2BB
Horsemanship (This creature can’t be blocked except by creatures with horsemanship.)

Sacrifice Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed: Return target black card from your graveyard to your hand. Activate this ability only during your turn, before attackers are declared.

There’s a lot happening here.  We’re looking at a reasonable casting cost for a 3-power body with evasion (and as far as that goes, it’s like I said – “Horsemanship” basically reads “Unblockable” in my metagame.)  There’s a limited built-in sacrifice outlet, and I’m a big fan of those to any extent.  And of course, there’s the repeatable Regrowth effect.
Plus, he’s eating his own eyeball.  I completely missed that part until very recently, when it was pointed out to me at the shop.  You don’t see that too often in a general…
Breaking It Down: Voltron?
An essentially unblockable general immediately suggests a Voltron-style aggro approach.  Black can certainly pull this off, but in this format, I’m not sure that this is the right way to go; to expand on this line of thought, my playgroups never use the “general damage” rule, so I’m looking at having to push through a full forty damage with a starting power of three.
There’s also the fact that black doesn’t traditionally excel at aggro strategies that don’t involve a bunch of zombie tokens or giant flying demons.  Without white, equipment strategies become far less viable, which reduces the deck to making one-for-one plays like Demonic Tutor for Sword of Light and Shadow to get off the ground.  There’s just no real advantage there.
The other option is to go the Infect route.  Slapping on a Grafted Exoskeleton makes Xiahou Dun into a two-turn unblockable clock, and supporting him with options like Hand of the Praetors, Ichor Rats, and the host of Proliferators might make for a novel approach to an aggro strategy.
The problem that I see there is twofold-
First, and most importantly, Exoskeleton becomes absolutely critical to the functionality of the deck.  Without it, there are other ways to win via Poison, but the deck devolves from there into a standard-issue mono-black infect deck, and there’s not enough card quality to really support that route; the end result is always a deck that expends nearly all of its resources with a result of one person killed and a table full of people ready to retaliate.  It also means that the deck becomes a little less about the general, and I want to focus on making this thing all about synergy and value. 
Secondly, I’m just not crazy about winning via Poison.  I’m not devaluing it, but the reason Infect works as a strategy is that it is designed to cheat a resource; namely, the notion that your opponent has forty life.  Using Infect essentially means that you’re trying to win and win quickly, and that’s just not the type of game that I enjoy playing in this format.
For that reason, I’m steering clear of aggro.  If you play in a normal environment that uses general damage or you have no issues with Infect, you could reconsider this strategy.  In fact, I’d love to see a list that does just this.
The Regrowth Factor
That pushes us toward Xiahou’s second ability.  I suspect that most people out there would consider this to be the default reason to play Xiahou Dun, and I apologize if this feels a little bit like going the ‘low-hanging fruit’ route.  I think the wrong side of this equation is what usually gets the focus, however, so I’m looking to set the record straight.
-Sacrifice
Xiahou Dun’s activated ability requires that he be sacrificed, so we have a host of opportunities that can make good use of this.  Effects that trigger when creatures die such as Grave Pact, Butcher Of Malakir, and Morbid cards like Tragic Slip and Reaper from the Abyss offer a very synergistic control engine.  Reanimation effects become very strong, as it will get incredibly expensive to replay Xiahou Dun with the accruing general tax; reusable effects like Phyrexian Reclamation are very strong, and options like Nim Deathmantle and Profane Command (the former auto-reanimates Xiahou Dun, while the latter provides a reanimation loop that also offers fear, life-loss, or creature removal with each iteration) become all-stars.
And this is just to start.  The keywords we’ll use in the Magiccards.Info rules-text search will focus on triggers that happen when a creature leaves play or dies, when a creature hits the graveyard, and sacrifice triggers.
Primarily, sacrifice is the theme we want to focus on.  This is what drives synergy in this deck.
-Return A Black Card To Your Hand
This is where the value is derived.  If we build this deck correctly, Xiahou’s Regrowth is the icing on the cake.  Because the ability lets us play with an ever-increasing second hand, we can afford to cut way back on the quantity of a given effect in order to achieve flexibility through tutors, including ones that use the graveyard (such as Buried Alive and Entomb.) 
Since we’re not cheating things back into play, we need to be aware of mana production.  In a deck built around Sharuum the Hegemon, it’s nothing to Entomb a Darksteel Forge early on, knowing that it will be showing up for free.  In this deck, though, Entomb and Vampiric Tutor fill nearly the same functional space, so leveraging discounts like Jet Medallion along with mana doublers like Caged Sun will be necessary. 
Along those lines, things that force discard don’t really have the sting they would in a normal deck.  The normal downsides of a card like Demonic Collusion or Insidious Dreams are mitigated to an extent, so we’ll gain the power those cards bring to the table. 
Things To Consider
-Card draw is going to be as critical as ever, so we won’t be cutting back in that category.  Fueling Xiahou Dun is going to be key to keeping this deck going, and mono-black has a nasty habit of running out of steam, so we’ll need to source ways to get draw engines online.
-Actually, “Engines” should be at the front of the design concept.  Xiahou Dun and Grave Pact are nice together, but adding Dawn of the Dead and Black Market means that we’re regrowing a card and forcing other players to sacrifice a creature each turn for free while netting mana in the process!  These are the synergies that get us the value we need, so it’s worth it to look at things in steps when looking for cards in each area.
-Graveyard hate is going to be a huge issue.  My Kuon deck played a reanimator sub-theme, and I actually think that it will be important to try to cut back on that strategy in this deck with the added attention Xiahou Dun brings to the graveyard.  Additionally, it might be worth it to look to Witchbane Orb to help prevent people from using targeted graveyard hate like Bojuka Bog. 
-Lifegain is likely still an issue, as most of the good black draw costs life.  I think the Drain Life strategy from Kuon will still exist here to some extent.
-Clearly, there’s an Achilles’ heel in the area of artifact/enchantment removal.  Oblivion Stone, Spine of Ish Sah, and the like will need to be present.
OFF AND RUNNING
That seems like a solid design foundation to start from.  What else plays well here?  What did I miss?  What other cards fit the strategy?
Sound off in the “Comments”.  I’m excited for this thing to take off.

Tune in next time – We’ll start looking at the mana base, card draw, and tutors, and we’ll start a running list of synergstic role-players that will drive the deck when it is finally complete.

àDJ