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"Mine"ing the Format

Readers! I have been hype for the last week because I wanted to write about Nicol Bolas before I wrote about Vaevictis but I decided to hold back for a week so I could really let my ideas percolate and come with the best possible deck built around Bolas because I think it’s the most exciting Legendary creature in M19 and possibly the most 75%. Over the years, we have gotten a half dozen different incarnations of Nicol Bolas and he has become one of the most iconic creatures in the game. He’s the “big bad” of the Magic Universe and he is the embodiment of Grixis, which I think was really the first color wedge to figure out its identity. While Adun Oakenshield and Rubinia Soulsinger were experimenting with wedge things, Tetsuo, Gwendlyn and Nicol Bolas decided what they wanted to be all about, and that was value. If you have more cards in hand than your opponent, you have more options and as the wedges evolved, Grixis has mostly stayed true to that mentality. Snapcaster Mage, Blightning, and Thoughtseize are where Grixis likes to be, and if you’re playing that wedge in Commander, watch out because you get access to Cruel Ultimatum, Undermine, Rakdos Charm, and The Scarab God.

The new Nicol Bolas seems as committed to value as any Nicol we have seen in the past and it also seems tailor-made for Commander; his very low casting cost helps us re-buy him from the Command Zone but he has an ETB effect which rewards us for running him out early. But making them discard cards isn’t what makes me like this commander as a 75% commander; it’s everything else that can go in the deck. I’m setting out to steal so much of their stuff they won’t know what hit them. Unlike with my Rubinia Soulsinger deck where I struggle to come up with a way to win against decks that don’t play a ton of creatures, this Nicol Bolas pile is going to put enormous pressure on them and if they can’t mount some sort of defense, we’re going to steamroll them. If they do mount a defense, hopefully we steal that defense and steamroll them anyway.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Nicol Bolas, the Arisen

Before we discuss how we build, I want to address the inherent weaknesses of a Grixis deck. Firstly, Grixis is missing Green and White and those are the two colors associated with removing Enchantments. There are a lot of good enchantments in Commander and some of them can be a real problem for us. We may struggle to find answers like Cyclonic Rift, Undermine, and maybe Recoil (If their hand is empty, Recoil is a three mana Desert Twister) at the right time to play them. Mana is also a huge issue. Greenless decks can struggle to ramp unless they get a good assortment of mana rocks early and this deck seems like it will be particularly mana-hungry with a lot of seven mana creatures, spells and activations. We need to watch our mana curve so we have early plays and we need to make sure we have enough mana fixing that we can get the colors and amounts of mana we need. I see a lot of mulligans with a deck like this. Finally, we may seem like a pretty scary deck to people and since people hate to be made to discard, we may get a disproportionate amount of hate when people see who our commander is. We need to be able to rest the board often to keep from losing before we get going.

What this deck will do well is make them discard, benefit from their discarding and steal their dead creatures out of the graveyard. As much as Enslave is the iconic Black mind control spell, I think Animate Dead is much better in some cases. If we’re making them discard a card on turn three, they may choose to discard a big creature they don’t yet have the mana for, meaning that Animate Dead is a Mind Control on a creature that wasn’t likely to see play for 3 or 4 more turns. It’s like traveling through time to pick their pocket in the future and then going back in time. A turn four Consecrated Sphinx out of your opponent’s graveyard is more value than a Gray’s sports Almanac (although in the movie, that Almanac was from 1950-2000 so I don’t know how valuable that particular book would be now). We’ll still be doing our typical Treachery/Bribery/Desertion (Mana-hungry much?) shenanigans but if we’re making them discard early and often, adding a suite of graveyard-pilfering can only make our deck even better.

We’ll seek to flip Bolas as quickly as possible because the planeswalker side is absolute bonkers and I think we can use his abilities very aggressively. We WANT Bolas to die so we can recast him to make the table discard again, hopefully stacking up a pile of Waste Not or Geth's Grimoire triggers and then flipping Bolas again so we can steal something that just went into the yard with his -4. This will take a lot of mana, but hopefully spells like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Praetor's Grasp, and Thada Adel, Acquisitor can help us use their mana rocks to fuel our dark ambitions. Let’s use Stolen Strategy to literally steal their Strategy.

The entire world is not enough for Nicol Bolas so he hops between planes to find more worlds to conquer. For us, stealing from and dominating one opponent isn’t enough so let’s steal from the whole table. We’ll use their mana rocks to power our big spells, use our cards to strip their hands of precious resources and use their graveyards to fill our board. If they protest, let’s wipe the board and build again from scratch since we’ll be the only player with resources. Spells that only hurt them like Vandalblast and Cyclonic Rift will be key here as well. We’re going to emulate Magic’s big bad so let’s be the big bad, until our Omnipotence frays for good (Also, Omniscience really should have been called Omnipotence and Enter the Infinite should have been called Omniscience. I’m not pretending I would be better at naming cards, just sayin’). (I realize I’ve used a lot more parentheticals in this article than usual, sorry about that). With our plan in place, let’s get to building this machine of death and destruction!

Your Patheitc Ideas ? Commander | Jason Alt

Geth's Grimoire
This looks like FUN. I realize I always say that. Maybe I just really like building decks. I’ve got a pretty sweet gig here if that’s the case. Let’s look at how you can make this deck your own.

You almost certainly want to add more lands. This deck can’t afford to miss a land drop and most of the time it will need to play 3 lands and 2 mana rocks or a spell that steals a mana rock in the first 3 turns every game. Once you figure out which direction you want to take the deck, it will be easy to know what to cut, so figure out what you like doing the most. I would cut redundancy before I cut function, meaning I would cut something like Grave Upheaval because you have lots of cards that do what it does rather than cutting something like Geth's Grimoire.

Speaking of Geth's Grimoire, it sure is fun to make them discard. If you want to add more of that, Gwendlyn Di Corci would be a fun addition if you didn’t sell yours for $50 like I did a few years back (worth). I went a little deeper on discard stuff in this build just as an excuse to highlight a couple of cards; Greel, Mind Raker and Cao Cao, Lord of Wei. I like having creature-based solutions to keeping their hands empty and those cards seem relatively-underknown. They’re not going to show up on the EDHREC page for Nicol Bolas, for example — I had to do some digging. One way I use EDHREC to go a little deeper on a particular strategy is click on a specific card and see the cards related to it, which goes deep on that effect rather than the broadness of an entire deck with many effects. Clicking on a card like Geth's Grimoire or Sangromancer on the Nicol Bolas page can help you find cards you might only use if you were going much deeper on discard strategies and you can find some neat hidden gems. I might not include Greel in my final list, but if I were heavy on discard, there are plenty of good cards we could add. Delirium Skeins, Megrim, Arterial Flow, Bloodchief Ascension — the list is long. I might pull back from it a bit when I build the deck myself but you have a lot of good options if you want to take the deck in this direction. I mentioned Recoil before but cut it, but if you’re keeping their hands empty, jam it back in. There’s always Warped Devotion effects. I haven’t yet cast Cyclonic Rift with Warped Devotion out, but I have to imagine it’s pretty brutal. You’re going to lose some friends with that one. Another option is adding Deadeye Navigator and/or Panharmonicon to get more out of casting Nicol Bolas for his ETB trigger.

If you want to get away from discard effects a bit, there are a few more ways we can take stuff from their board rather than their graveyard. Slave of Bolas is a good reminder that the Bolas thing to do is borrow a creature, beat them with it, then discard it after it serves its purpose. Slave of Bolas makes the cut and we can include some altars (Phyrexian and Ashnod’s both) as well as cards like Captivating Crew, Chamber of Manipulation, and Insurrection. Casting Insurrection when it isn’t for lethal, wiping the whole board except for your own creatures and recasting Insurrection later off of Snapcaster or Archaeomancer is a Bolas thing to do so don’t be afraid to let your Dragon Flag fly. Threaten effects are powerful, usually reasonably-costed mana-wise (or repeatable for the same mana) and are very 75%. If you want some Red creature stealing to go with Blue’s Bribery and Black’s Animate Dead, you can build that way for sure.

You can add a few more Planeswalkers and if you do, The Chain Veil is very good in this deck. Having a commander who is also a planeswalker means The Chain Veil isn’t a dead draw ever since you always have access to Bolas, provided they don’t Darksteel Mutation him or something. You have some great non-Bolas walkers you can add like Teferi, Temporal Archmage, Jace, Unraveler of Secrets (that emblem is brutal when they’re topdecking), Ral Zarek, Dack Fayden and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. You could be Grixis Superfriends, even, and really steer into it. That deck wouldn’t look anything like this one, but it could be fun. You lose the two best Superfriends colors, in my opinion, but isn’t 75% deck-building supposed to be challenging and not obvious? Otherwise this column would be stock Arcades lists and listicles about 10 cards I’d swap out of the precons.

You can do a lot with Nicol Bolas. Go deeper on the Instants and Sorceries by adding Snapcaster and other ways to play Cruel Ultimatum a ton. Go full blink to empty their hand and keep it empty. Add every Bolas-themed card you can think of like Fraying Omnipotence, Hour of Devastation, and Wit's End. Or go with a hybrid approach like I did, making them discard and trying to be ready with a Waste Not or Geth's Grimoire, but not sweating it too much if you don’t have something in place because later on you can always swoop in with Beacon of Unrest or Rise of the Dark Realms. The possibilities are endless, just know your weaknesses, play to your strengths and forge your own path. Until next time!

Magic Core Set 2019 is Now Available!