Kicking It Old School With Nicol Bolas

Bennie rights a terrible wrong—never having built a Commander deck led by Nicol Bolas—and hatches an evil Grixis deck for the ages!

I got a letter from the government the other day. I opened and read it; it said they were suckers.

Wait a minute—wrong letter.

Okay, here’s the right one:

Hey Bennie,

My name is Christopher Murray. I’m long-time reader of your EDH column and would say it’s probably one of if not the best EDH column currently being produced. [Well now . . . flattery will get you everywhere! –Bennie]

I’m currently running an Oona tutor/combo deck. I’ve been looking at making a second deck using the old Nicol Bolas as my commander; however, I don’t know how I want to build it just yet. The tutor combo is still something I could push but tends to make people hate you and not want to play, so I’m thinking of making it a grindy creature-based deck with a lot of flavor spells for draw and control.

Other than the normal staples I’m stuck on good creatures to play . . . I was thinking Clones or big value creatures like Olivia, so I went to see if there was one that you had made and noticed you haven’t made a Nicol Bolas deck yet. I was curious if you would be willing to look into it and throw me some ideas—or even better if you want to do an article on it, that would be awesome too.

I’m not sure what the "tutor combo" you cryptically refer to might be, but maybe I don’t want to know. I’m a little scared. But two things inspired me in your letter:

First, it is indeed true I have not ever made a Commander deck around Nicol Bolas, and that seems like a horrible, horrible oversight. How could I have not made an EDH deck around the original badass Elder Dragon legend?

Second, how very "Bennie" of you to suggest a creature-heavy build in Grixis, the very epitome of control colors!

I just can’t resist. To the card database I go . . .

[Insert your favorite hold music here. Mine is the Muzak version of "Train Kept A-Rollin’" by The Yardbirds.]

That’s-A Lotsa Mana

Sol Ring, Journeyer’s Kite, Fellwar Stone, Darksteel Ingot, Coalition Relic, Dragonspeaker Shaman, Mana Geyser, Black Market, Gilded Lotus

One thing that’s gotta be number one on your radar is just how much Nicol Bolas costs. Sorry big guy, I love ya, but sheesh you are one mana-greedy big boy! And it’s not just mana but colored mana—double each of his three colors and then an upkeep cost of one of each. That’s some serious constraints on your mana. So I’m running 41 lands that can produce colored mana, along with eight other sources of mana and Journeyer’s Kite to keep the basic lands coming.

Combat Damage, Schmombat Damage

Viridian Longbow, Livewire Lash, Quicksilver Dagger, Soul’s Fire, Extra Arms, Furystoke Giant, Sarkhan the Mad, Warstorm Surge, Stalking Vengeance

A lot of big beefy creatures with special triggered abilities have a combat damage requirement, especially more modern creatures. Nicol Bolas was around before Magic designers even thought about such things, so he’s got a nice little loophole there to drive through one of the scariest triggered abilities ever put on a creature. Nice hand, chief—there’s plenty of room for it in your graveyard! I mean, if you’re playing Nicol Bolas, you know everyone is going to be petrified of you, so you might as well make your deck as scary as possible. Soul’s Fire one player, and then swing at another player who’s open. Two empty hands in one turn!

Insurance Policy

Glaring Spotlight, Dragon Breath, Dragon Shadow, Lightning Mauler, Swiftfoot Boots, Anger

Now, people aren’t just going to sit around and take a beating from Nicol Bolas sitting down, so you need to make sure your guy can survive and get in his licks. The aforementioned Livewire Lash does a nice job of waving away targeted removal, but I went ahead and added Swiftfoot Boots too. I also thought giving Nicol Bolas haste would go a long way towards making sure he hits the board, perhaps hitting someone and stripping away their hand before they get a chance to cast their sorcery speed removal. Dragon Shadow provides some additional evasion, as does Glaring Spotlight in a pinch.

Rattlesnake Blues

Maze of Ith; Executioner’s Capsule; Seal of Removal; Basilisk Collar; Mogg Maniac; Wall of Souls; Nim Deathmantle; Riddlekeeper; Propaganda; Dissipation Field; No Mercy; Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs; Wurmcoil Engine

Of course, if you’re gonna be the table’s Big Bad, you need to protect yourself from getting stomped before you’ve got a chance to bring your Elder Dragon legend out to play. So I’ve loaded up with quite a few "rattlesnake" cards to wave away attackers and give me a chance to build up my board and mana to pave the way for his Royal Badassness. I’m not sure that I want to run both Dissipation Field and No Mercy though.

Picking Up The Pieces

Lazav, Dimir Mastermind; Mortivore; Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni; Wrexial, the Risen Deep; Diluvian Primordial; Sepulchral Primordial

One nice thing about running a Nicol Bolas deck is that you can expect to find some juicy cards lying in your opponent’s graveyards, so I went ahead and made sure to sprinkle in some cards that appreciate that. I’m also saving up a very special evil laugh for when I cast Life’s Finale and follow it up with Lazav or Sepulchral Primordial. Oh yes, I sure am!

Ok, enough muttering about my vile schemes! Like a good villain, let me just show you just how I’m going to kill you:

Nicol Bolas
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 09-08-2013
Magic Card Back

Don’t Forget The Clones, Ed

Phyrexian Metamorph, Evil Twin

Oh, that’s right—Christopher mentioned running some clones. With the new legend rules, Evil Twin is one of the best Clones around, and we can certainly find room for him!

Last up to bring it full circle:

You can’t have a Nicol Bolas deck without running Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. After all, unlocking the achievement of having both on the board at the same time is one for the ages!


*cough cough*

Ahem. Excuse the outburst.

So there you have it—I’ve righted a terrible wrong and hatched an evil Grixis deck for the ages. How does it compare to your Nicol Bolas decks? Hit me up in the comments below!

Before I go, I want to send out another call for action! A couple weeks back I mentioned I would like your epic haymaker Commander stories—the kind of crazy haymaker play that is one for the ages. When you’re on your deathbed and your life is flashing before your eyes, this experience will bring a smile to your face. When you’ve had a little too much to drink, you can’t help but recount this story (again!) even to people who don’t know anything about Magic. It doesn’t matter if it’s a play you executed, one that victimized you, or one you simply witnessed; it just has to be awesome, the kind of story that makes you glad to be a fan of the format. Basically, the kind of thing I wrote about in The Hero’s Journey.

Got one? Good. Haven’t sent it yet? What are you waiting for? Open up your email and address it to my email address found at the bottom of my columns. Write it up for me, and make sure it’s told in a way worthy of its greatness—with flair, humor, a sense of drama . . . and preferably not too many spelling errors to detract from the read. In the subject line put "Epic Haymaker Commander Story" and hit send.

Why am I asking for these? Well, I still can’t tell you yet. But it won’t be a secret too much longer, so be patient with me. All I can say is it’s for something awesome I’m working on. I can’t promise to answer all your emails back, but I will read each one. The ones I’ve gotten so far are great, and I can’t wait to see some more!

Take care,


Facebook = Bennie Smith, Writer
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