Big Bad Bolas

Bennie Smith is going old-school! Nicol Bolas is among the longest-standing Big Bads of Magic, and Bennie’s celebrating him with a controlling and flavorful Commander deck ahead of Amonkhet!

Wizards of the Coast has done a pretty job of distracting us from our main course with choice morsels scattered throughout Modern Masters 2017. Like many of us, I cannot wait to draft the set when it comes out next week. But Wizards knows what we all really want, what we are waiting for, and teases us by using the newer art in the Modern Masters 2017 reprint of Cruel Ultimatum.

Bolas… Bolas… Bolas…

I imagine we would all be pretty stoked about Amonkhet anyway, given its Ancient Egypt-inspired flavor, but they did not stop there! No, they’ve made it very clear with the artwork we’ve seen so far that feature Nicol Bolas’s iconic horns in the background that the Multiverse’s biggest, baddest villain is returning to the story with a vengeance.

Of course, then there was this card from Aether Revolt.

Bolas… Bolas… Bolas…

Taken by itself, that special text in Dark Intimations could have just been a shout-out to casual and Commander fans who play with Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, but collectively we know this all means that Nicol Bolas is coming and we need to get ready.

“There is no greater folly than standing against me.”

Nicol Bolas

The cool thing is, before there was Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker there was Nicol Bolas, one of the Elder Dragons from Legends (and reprinted in Chronicles and Time Spiral). Commander used to be known as Elder Dragon Highlander (which is why it is sometimes referred to as EDH) because, in its very earliest form, each player built their deck around one of the five Elder Dragon legendary creatures. I have to admit, it has been a really long time since I built a Commander deck around one of those cards, and I think the looming return of Nicol Bolas to the Magic story is the perfect time to come back to the format’s earliest roots and bring big, bad Bolas to the Command Zone.

There’s a problem, though. See, Nicol Bolas is flat-out mean. Once you reveal him as your chosen commander for the game, people are going to gun for you, because no one wants to be hit with Nicol Bolas and have their hand discarded. Either you are going to be attacked early and often so that it’ll be easy to take you out before Nicol Bolas becomes too big of a problem, or they will just hold their removal spells for Nicol Bolas when you finally cast him. At a whopping eight mana just to cast the first time, it will get quite onerous to keep casting him over and over from the Command Zone.

“You will fully understand fear when you discover it is the final thing you put your faith in.”

Nicol Bolas

When I first started thinking about what to include in a Nicol Bolas Commander deck, the initial idea was to figure out the best way to protect the card and ensure it hit your opponents quickly and strip their answers from their hand. While that is a perfectly valid approach, I think it plays right into the political weakness of choosing such a vicious card as your commander. Also, eight mana is a lot, and it’s going to put a strain on your resources to be able to cast Nicol Bolas and have the mana available to protect him.

While I do not think there is much you can do about the political issues with playing Nicol Bolas, I do think we can solve the second issue by overloading your opponents removal spells with threats you cast prior to Nicol Bolas. And what better threats can we play than Dragons?

Here Be Dragons

Some sweet, sweet Dragons have been printed over the years, especially during the Khans of Tarkir block with the Dragonlords. Casting a Crucible of Fire on turn 4; Thundermaw Hellkite on turn 5; Silumgar, the Drifting Death on turn 6; and Kilnmouth Dragon on turn 7 – well, now, that’s the kind of pressure that starts demanding answers from your opponent before Nicol Bolas even begins to stride across the battlefield!

Dragon Tempest and Scourge of Valkas are cards that play great with lots of Dragons, but they are especially nice when you play Nicol Bolas, since you will be able to have Nicol Bolas immediately deal damage to an opponent and strip their hand.

“The essence of every world, every spell, and every thought is power. Nothing else matters, because nothing else exists.”

Nicol Bolas

Crucible of the Spirit Dragon is a great way to help cast Nicol Bolas a little ahead of schedule. Haven of the Spirit Dragon is a solid mana fixer for your Dragon spells, and then in the late-game, if Nicol Bolas starts to become too expensive to cast from the Command Zone, you can let him go to the graveyard and get him back with Haven. Bladewing the Risen can serve a similar function.

Cryptic Gateway is a sweet way to cheat out the more expensive Dragons by tapping a few small ones like Dragon Hatchling and Metallic Mimic, and putting it onto the battlefield at instant speed can lead to some big surprises—imagine Dragonlord Silumgar coming out and suddenly stealing the biggest threat on the table.

What I like about the Dragon theme is that it provides plenty of strong plays even if your opponents keep Nicol Bolas from becoming much of a factor in the game. I mean, sometimes Utvara Hellkite just keeps pumping out Dragon tokens that take over the game!

Bolas Flavor

Next up, though, I want to lay out the red carpet to celebrate the impending return of Magic’s Big Bad, and what better way to do so than to jam as much Nicol Bolas flavor cards as we can? From flavor text to art, there are many options and I have included many of them here. I like that many of these are just good, controlling cards that can help us survive long enough to cast our Elder Dragon. Crux of Fate in particular is just fantastic as a sweeper that leaves your big threats on the battlefield. Countersquall and Soul Manipulation provide some counterspell power. Wit’s End provides an opponent with a fine simulation of Nicol Bolas’s touch without the annoying Commander damage.

“Where will you run when I punish you with the very ground you flee on?”

Nicol Bolas

I felt like I should include Tezzeret somewhere in the mix. I decided not to include Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas because I did not think I had enough artifacts to really make him very good. I went with Tezzeret the Schemer instead, since his ability to create Etherium Cells is useful even without any other artifacts on the battlefield, and those artifacts can help us cast Nicol Bolas or other expensive Dragons early.

Then there is the iconic Gem of Becoming.

Knowledge Is Power, Power Is Control

Okay, knowing that players will be coming after us, I wanted to include some controlling measures to keep us alive until we get our Dragons online. Some of the cards we added for flavor reasons help, but we likely need more. I have a fair number of pinpoint removal spells to help with large threats that hit the battlefield early. Seal of Doom is a good way to wave away nonblack threats from attacking you and hopefully attacking other players instead. Toxic Deluge and Damnation help clear away a cluttered battlefield, which sets the table nicely for our Dragons to take over. It is not often that I break out my single copy of Force of Will from Eternal Masters, but considering the powerful mind of Nicol Bolas, it makes perfect sense to find room for it here.

Good Stuff

Nicol Bolas is a mana-hungry commander, so I wanted to include a fair number of mana accelerants. I chose Izzet and Rakdos Signets because the heavy Dragon themes push me towards wanting more red mana. If ever there was a Commander made to equip with Lightning Greaves, I am pretty sure Nicol Bolas is it. Cauldron of Souls is a great way to put a strain on your opponents’ removal spells, since many of our creatures are big enough that adding a -1/-1 counter to them isn’t going to diminish their battlefield presence much. Last, Volrath’s Stronghold and Phyrexian Reclamation are a few more cogs in the plan to let Nicol Bolas go to the graveyard rather than the Command Zone once the commander tax gets too high.

“Do the innocent pay for the crimes of the guilty? Of course they do. That’s the fate of the weak.”

Nicol Bolas

Okay, so mix all that together, and here is what we get:

Nicol Bolas
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 03-10-2017
Magic Card Back

I have to say, this is certainly one of the most evil decks I have put together but I suppose I should expect nothing less considering our Commander.

Do you think we have rolled out the red carpet sufficiently for Big, Bad Bolas? Is there anything I have overlooked? What different choices would you have made?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)