Lord of Specters: Nicol Bolas Commander Deck Tech
- Ryan Scicluna
M19 gave players the origin of Nicol Bolas his very own flip walker, to symbolize his getting a planeswalker spark. This means that commander players now have the opportunity to build Nicol Bolas decks with a decent Bolas commander. In this article, I will showcase a particular build for [Nicol Bolas, the Ravager] that focuses on hand disruption and reanimation.
There are many ways players have built Nicol Bolas commander decks. A favorite of mine is Jumbo Commander's version, which focuses on dragons and reanimation with a little bit of Bolas flavor added it. Another good build, is the Deck Builder's Society's version, which plays a game of grixis cruel control with Nicol Bolas elements and flavor. However, for my version of the deck, I decided to go on a lighter touch. My playgroup is very casual and we rarely play over the top decks, so if I was to be allowed to play the Ravager, I needed a version of the deck which is not too powerful but can still pack a punch.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, is a 4/4 flying dragon for 1UBR, which forces our opponents to discard a card when it enters the battlefield. This means that when we play the ravager each opponent loses a card. If we are playing in a game with four players, that's 3 cards our opponents won't be playing anytime soon, if ever. This made me recall a particular favorite tribe of mine, which in my opinion is a bit underrated. I am of course referring to the Specters of MTG. Specter creatures are synonymous with flyers that when they deal combat damage, they force the opponent to discard cards from their hands. All 21 of MTG's specters are of Grixis colors (UBR), which would fit perfectly in this deck. Attacking our opponents' hands, getting rid of threats before they can be played sounds like something Bolas would do. Since our opponents will be discarding cards and probably creatures, we can also try to reanimate their strongest creatures from their graveyard and using their resources against them. Again, this sounds like something Bolas would do as well.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager can also transform. By paying 4UBR we can exile the ravager and return him transformed under our control into the planeswalker Nicol Bolas, the Arisen (this ability can only be played at sorcery speed). This planeswalker has everything, card draw, removal, reanimation and an ultimate ability that screams Nicol Bolas, as it exiles all cards from a player's library except for the last card. This gives that player a false sense of hope, which most probably will not matter and the player will lose the game on their next turn. This transform ability also makes the Ravager vulnerable to removal as other players will keep an eye on this and try to kill him before you can be able activate it and flip him. However, the deck has other threats that will stretch your opponent's' resources and focus, which will make it hard for them to handle everything you are throwing at them.
This is not a Nicol Bolas Tribal deck. This is not a deck with every card referencing or linked to Nicol Bolas. This is not a super powerful deck that will make you the archenemy in every game (hopefully not, at least). This is supposed to be a fun Nicol Bolas deck with elements of his character sprinkled in thanks to certain cards. The deck tries to attack other players' hands before they could become a threat. As a result, the deck can be very political, as one can make deals with you in order not to be your next target. This is a deck that likes to build up slowly and eventually win by singling out specific players and getting rid of your opponents one by one. The deck tries to steal other player's creatures by reanimating them from their graveyard so that they can do your bidding. This deck is not meant to be the ultimate Bolas EDH deck but a fun deck that will create nuisances for your opponents while you slowly gain the upper hand.
Specters and Discard
As explained above, this deck will try to attack our opponents' hands but instead of using direct cards that make us target the card our opponents will be discarding, like Thoughtsieze and Duress, we want to give that option to our opponents by using specter creatures. This is part of the mind games Nicol Bolas likes to play, making each player aware of his own decisions resulting in their demise. Even though we want to play specters, we can't just include all of the 21 specters from MTG's history. Since we also want to do other things as well, we have to be selective. Hypnotic Specter and Sedraxis Specter are 3 drops, 2/2 and 3/2 flyers respectively with the discard effect. Sedraxis Specter even has unearth which we can use later in the game to reanimate it for some more advantage. Nightveil Specter forces a player to exile to top card of their library and allows you to cast those exiled cards whenever you want. Guul Draz Specter even gets a boost of +3/+3 if an opponent has no cards in their hand, while Blizzard Specter gives us the option to choose either; to force the player dealt combat damage to discard a card or return a permanent they control to their owner's hand. Scythe Specter forces each opponent to discard a card if we deal damage to one player and makes the players who discarded the highest converted mana cost, lose that much life. Dominaria also gave us a legendary specter, Urgoros, the Empty One, which like all other specters, forces the player dealt combat damage to discard a card but if they can't, we get to draw a card.
The following cards are not specters; however, they have the same discard effect with some other benefits. Liliana's Reaver is a 4/3 zombie for 2BB with deathtouch and whenever it deals combat damage to an opponent that player discards a card and we create a tapped 2/2 zombie. This helps us create a board when attacking an open opponent. Banshee of the Dread Choir is a 4/4 spirit for 3BB with the discard effect and Myriad. This means that whenever it attacks, we create a token that is a copy of the Banshee attacking all the different opponents. As a result, all our opponents will need to either block the 4/4 or lose a card from their hand. Herald of Anguish is a 5/5 demon with flying for 5BB. The reason for including him in this deck is the ability that forces each opponent to discard a card during each of our end steps. Syphon Mind, a sorcery for 3B, forces each opponent to discard a card and we get to draw a card for each card discarded this way. This can result in a big advantage for us, as we are depleting our opponents' resource while we refuel our hand. Since we are making our opponents discard so many cards, I also included Waste Not, which gives us a number of benefits depending on the cards our opponents discard. In my build I did not include cards such as Liliana's Caress, Megrim and the new specter Fell Specter because I did not want to focus only on card discard and the life loss in a multiplayer game seems to be too little and too slow. The space of these cards was better suited for reanimation cards.
Our opponents will be discarding cards like crazy and most of the time they will be getting rid of high costed spells which they can't cast any time soon. Since some of these spells will probably be creatures, we want to use them to our advantage. As a result, we can play cards that bring back creatures from the graveyard under our control, thus cheating our opponents' big creatures into play. Reanimate, Animate Dead, Necromancy and Beacon of Unrest are good examples of reanimation cards. The Eldest Reborn force our opponents to sacrifice a creature and discard a card before we can reanimate a creature or planeswalker, which sounds like it was made for this deck. The Scarab God and Sepulchral Primordial are good reanimator creatures for when we have a lot of mana. Lastly, we can use Rise of the Dark Realms to put all creatures from all graveyards into play under our control. These spells can also be used in conjunction with any removal spell, ours or our opponents. Nicol Bolas is all about his ego and thus using other players' creatures to destroy them really fits this image. But why stop there? We can even “reanimate” instants and sorceries as wells with cards like Spelltwine, a sorcery for 5U, which allows us to exile a sorcery or instant card from a graveyard and another sorcery or instant card from an opponent's graveyard, and cast them without paying their mana cost. Similarly, Wrexial, the Risen Deep is a 5/8 Kraken creature with islandwalk and swampwalk for 3UUB, which when it deals damage to a player we get to cast a sorcery or instant from that player's graveyard for free.
Beyond discard and reanimation, a Bolas deck would not be a Bolas deck without some fun manipulation, political or cruel cards. Propaganda taxes our opponents for attacking us while Pain Magnification incentivizes our opponents to attack each other since if an opponent is dealt 3 or more damage from a single source that play has to discard a card. This can potentially force our opponents to police themselves and keep other players in check. Disciple of Bolas is a good value card as long as you have another creature to sacrifice for its ETB trigger. Frozen Aether is an enchantment that forces your opponents' artifacts, creatures and lands to enter the battlefield tapped, potentially slowing them down and give us enough time to recover or build up a significant advantage. Painful Quandary gives our opponents a tough choice of either losing 5 life or discarding a card, whenever they cast a spell. This can be deadly to combo players or opponents who need to rebuild after a board wipe.
Neheb, the Eternal is one of Bolas's eternal zombies with afflict 3, which means that if it becomes blocked, the defending player loses 3 life. Neheb also gives us, in our postcombat main phase, one red mana for each one damage dealt to our opponents this turn. This can help us flip our commander or ramp us up in a single turn to cast any of our high costed spells. Slave of Bolas is one of those cruel cards, which steals a creature and let us untap it with haste and we get to sacrifice it at the end of our turn. This gets rid of opponents' creatures while allowing us to use them before they go to the graveyard. Planar Bridge will give us the opportunity to search for any permanent from our deck and put it on the battlefield, including our other Nicol Bolas planeswalker cards. This is also a flavor win since by the end of the Aether Revolt story, Tezzeret managed to graft the bridge in his arm for his master, Bolas. The deck has a number of card draw spells so we can include The Locust God, which can create a swarm of 1/1 flying insects that can be a problem for our opponents. Finally, when we have enough mana we can cast Torment of Hailfire to finish off each opponent at the same time.
Finding What We Need
When it comes to playing this deck sometimes we might require a specific answer for a specific threat. For this reason we are running a number of tutors to help us dig up our answers. Mystic Tutor, Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor can practically search for any card we might need. We also have a number of draw spells to keep us ready with spells to cast each turn. Rhystic Study lets us draw a card each time an opponent plays a spell unless they pay 1 mana. As a result, our opponents will have the choice of restricting themselves or letting us draw cards. Faithless Looting and Tormenting Voice let us draw cards for the price of discarding other cards. Ponder and Preordain let us manipulate the top of our decks and draw cards. Thanks to Consecrated Sphinx a 4/6 flying sphinx for 4UU, we can draw two cards each time our opponents draw a card while Sire of Stagnation is a 5/7 eldrazi for 4UB, which lets us draw two cards and forces our opponents to exile to top two cards of their library each time they put a land into play.
Ramp, Removal, and Other Goodies
When it comes to ramp and mana fixing, we are running a basic package. This includes Sol Ring, Rakdos Signet, Dimir Signet, Thought Vessel, Manalith, Thran Dynamo, and Solemn Simulacrum. We are also running a copy of Mana Crypt as it provides 2 colorless mana for 0 cost with the only downside that each upkeep we have to flip a coin and if we lose the flip we take 3 damage. This fits Bolas's arrogant attitude of power at any cost.
For removal we have Damnation, Hour of Devastation and Cyclonic Rift. I also included Chaos Warp and Vandalblast to deal with any permanent and other artifacts respectively. In Bolas's Clutches is not a removal spell but since it steals any permanent, it sometimes feels like getting rid of a threat and using it yourself against other players. The deck has a copy of Sword of Feast and Famine as it gives protection from black and green but also forces a player dealt combat damage to discard a card (synergizes with the specters) and makes us untap all the lands we control, allowing us to cast other spells post combat. For protecting our commander and other creatures we have a copy of Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots.
Nicol Bolas has manipulated many other planeswalkers to do his bidding throughout the ages and through the MTG Multiverse. However, none are more related and representative of this then Tezzeret and Liliana. The problem is their card do not necessarily synergies well with the other. For this deck, I choose to include Tezzeret the Seeker because he can tutor and put into play most artifacts we play thanks to his minus ability or help us generate more mana by untapping our mana rocks using his plus ability. When it came to choosing a Liliana planeswalker card, I went for the most iconic one, which also aids our discard strategy card, Liliana of the Veil. She can continue to disrupt our opponents' hands while also forcing target player to sacrifice a creature. Lastly, we can't play a Nicol Bolas commander deck without including his other planeswalker cards. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is a powerful card, which can get rid of any noncreature permanent or permanently steal one of our opponents' creatures. His ultimate can ruin a single player or finish them off completely. The other Bolas planeswalker card I included is Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. This is also another powerful card letting us cast other player's spells, disrupt their hands, deal 7 damage to target player or creature, or exiling each nonland permanent our opponents control.
As I stated earlier, I didn't set out to create the ultimate Bolas EDH deck. This list is a fun multiplayer deck for a low power level playgroup. I am sure there are many more ways you can build Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, which can accommodate any particular play style. One idea I was tempted to go for was focusing on a political play style using cards like Disrupt Decorum, Capital Punishment and Bite of the Black Rose. However, in the end I decided to use one of my favorite, underutilized tribes of MTG, the Specters.
What do you think of the deck? Do you have any suggestions for this particular build? If you want to recommend any commander I should look into or build next comment down below.
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