Sindbad And The Nephilim

House rules can keep Commander more interesting, and today Abe Sargent explores the potential to spice up your Commander deckbuilding by embracing some legendary-feeling but technically non-Legendary cards at the helm of a new deck built just for them.

Have you been getting tired of the same old, same old at your kitchen table? I know a lot of folks are weary of seeing the same Commanders day after day. Why not mix things up? You could have a Magic Night where people have to build a Commander deck from a non-legendary creature or other card. There are tons of players out there that use different options as the leaders.

And if you don’t want to have everyone do it for a night, why not just try it out yourself? You can get some very intriguing builds from some of these folks. Let’s take a look at some different options for your leader, and I’ll even build a deck around one of these for you!

What could you use instead of Legendary Creatures to lead your troops?

1) Nephilim – As of today, there are no four-color options to build a Commander deck around. As a result, it’s quite common to run into Commander decks that are built around the Nephilim cycle of creatures from Guildpact. I’ve seen them myself a few times.

Dune-Brood Nephilim Glint-Eye Nephilim Ink-Treader Nephilim Witch-Maw Nephilim Yore-Tiller Nephilim

Frankly, of the options listed today, I think the Nephilim cycle feels the most legendary, and representatives from Wizards of the Coast have stated that they wished the Nephilim had been legendary in retrospect. These are both unique in their color identities and often in their abilities as well, offering a variety of interesting concepts to build around. They also seem to be less abusable then the next category by far.

Which Nephilim would you play and why?

2) Planeswalkers – Tons of playgroups allow folks to drop planeswalkers as their commanders, not just the cycle that was printed in Commander 2014. One of the most commonly-asked questions I’ve seen is whether or not ‘walkers would ever be officially added as eligible Commanders. In terms of flavor, this makes perfect sense. Take someone like Venser. There is a legendary version of Venser (Venser, Shaper Savant) that you can run, but you can’t drop Venser, the Sojourner as your commander. Planeswalkers represent a unique character, just like a legendary creature does, so why can’t this card command your team?

Magic Origins muddies this water further with the flip-Walkers. You can play Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy all day long, but not Jace Beleren. Isn’t that odd? You can drop Nissa, Vastwood Seer from your Command zone, tutor up a Forest, drop that, flip her, and then immediately activate her – isn’t that basically like running Nissa Revane? So I get it. And if your playgroup wants to get together and drop ‘walkers as their commanders, they should feel encouraged to do so.

This also adds more options. For example, if you want to build a green and blue Commander deck, you may be upset at the lack of options out there. There are precisely six Simic-colored legendary creatures. We get four from Ravnica Blocks, two for each time we’ve visited that plane, plus Edric, Spymaster of Trest and Kruphix, God of Horizons. Getting to use Kiora, the Crashing Wave would be really nice.

I do think there could be a tendency to be abusive with this, and some playgroups may push back. For example, a mana-ramp deck built around Kiora with her harder-to-kill permanent type could be downright disgusting. A discard deck fueled by Liliana or an artifact deck built around either Tezzeret could be overly powerful. Maybe your playgroup likes that! It just depends, but running ‘walkers is a popular option.

3). Pseudo-Legendary – There were a group of creatures made in Arabian Nights that were printed before the technology of legendary creatures was even invented. These cards all represent an individual:

Abu Ja'far Aladdin Ali Baba Ali from Cairo El-Hajjaj King Suleiman Sindbad

You could also include:

Niall Silvain Uncle Istvan

This duo is from The Dark, and although they came out post-Legends many of the early sets were being developed at the same time and didn’t use the technology of similar sets until later. Ice Age was the first post-Legends set to have new Legendary creatures. The Dark has a few that you could use as well, and Uncle Istvan is every bit the wacky, zany, early-style card that you would expect from this era.

Clearly these cards represent a single character. Flavorwise, no one is going to question whether a card named “Uncle Istvan” could play the role of a leader of a deck when Grandmother Sengir is eligible to. Some of them even have pseudo-legendary abilities like Ali from Cairo. (He used to be restricted in Vintage, after all!) Though, to be fair, technically the plane of Rabiah has been splintered into a thousand different shards, which could likely result in the same characters exiting on multiple planes. So you could have multiple Aladdins, as one example – but that’s not the case with all of them. And nothing’s holding back shard-shattered cross-types from playing in Commander anyway!

You can command if you want to…

While the flavor works, the mechanics are also fine. No one is about to shout out, “Finally, I can build that broken Ali Baba deck that’s been brewing in my mind! Mwah-a-ha-ha!” Ali Baba, Abu Jafar, Niall Silvain – these aren’t precisely world-beaters. They weren’t even that dominant in their own time, let alone today.

If you are using creatures or planeswalkers that aren’t technically legendary as your Commander, then why not try on one of these nine cards as well? I mean, how odd would that King Suleiman deck look? In fact, let’s do one of these right now!

And there we go. Sindbad is a fine two-drop that taps to draw you a card if it’s a land. I remember back in the day playing Sindbad – it never said to “reveal the card” so I would draw a card, and then just confirm, verbally, if I drew a land. Foes just had to take it on trust that you drew a land if you retained it. I once called a judge over in a tournament to confirm that the card was a land so I wouldn’t have to show it. It was really poorly designed. (Today they would design Sindbad by saying something like, “Reveal the top card of your library. If it’s a land, put it into your hand, if it’s not, put it in your graveyard.” That’s much cleaner)

Because I want to ensure the top card is a land, I included a ton of cards that allow you to rearrange and stack your library. We have cards like Scroll Rack, Soothsaying and Sensei’s Divining Top alongside scry options and cards like Discombobulate. Tons of cards here stack your deck. That’s crucial.

Shoot, I liked that thought so much that I tossed in wonky cards like Aven Fateshaper and support such as Halimar Depths. Consider Soldevi Excavations. Normally you might not want to risk the two-for-one problem that the Excavations provides, after all, you don’t want to walk into a Strip Mine, Dust Bowl, or Acidic Slime. But recursive ways of checking and moving the top card of your deck is worth the risk here!

With this support, Sindbad basically reads “Tap: Draw a Land.” You should be drawing a metric ton of extra cards from your two-drop Commander. Since Sindbad comes down so early, and since he can continue to have a board presence despite commander taxes from his death, you can rely on him activating. With that in mind, I included a few ways to use those extra cards. We can play extra stuff with Terrain Generator or Walking Atlas, discard lands for “real” cards with Compulsion or Trade Routes, and so forth.

With the potential for a mugged-up hand, cards like Sturmgeist suggest themselves. Remember how Sindbad draws you that card? Psychosis Crawler will trigger off your Sindbad activations as well as normal draws and can just tear people up. Get ready!

I tossed in some synergetic element like Vexing Arcanix. Vexing Arcanix is definitely old-school. You can aim it at yourself to draw cards when you know the top card of your library, you can play nice multiplayer games with folks to give them a chance to draw a good card, and you can often shoot people for damage. It’s a very flexible card in the Sindbad shell. I used to run both in an Elemental Augury deck. (See also: Zur’s Weirding)

Heed the Mists? Wow. ‘Nuff Said!

As the deck developed into an odd blue ramp-style deck, I tossed in a few other cards to help out (Sword of the Animist, Explorer’s Scope, Merfolk Wayfinder, Burnished Hart, etc). What can we do with all of this Sindbad-infused mana? We have a lot of activated abilities, like Soothsaying and such. I also tossed in Staff of Domination to tap and untap for various effects as we have need.

Consider the broken Future Sight and Magus of the Future. In both cases, they will let you blow through your deck and use all of that pent-up mana. If you have a land on top, play it to keep going, and if you hit a second land that’d normally be where the free draws end for Future Sight that turn. But now, tap Sindbad to draw it and keep it up. Or you could tap the Top to draw a card, place it on top, and then drop it again for just one mana to keep it up.

Now, I could have just built a mono-blue deck around Extraplanar Lens and Caged Sun. But why? This is a Sindbad deck, and let’s make his! I thought about tossing in some Sindbad-flavored cards like ships or boats – you could have Pirate Ship, Merchant Ship, War Barge, etc. But I wanted to mine the mechanics of the card, rather than the flavor – although there is something to be said for a deck that plays a bunch of Islands as the land base for Sindbad.

We have some fun Sindbad infused tricks in this deck. You could add in Delver of Secrets or Field of Dreams. Whatever you want. And this Sindbad deck certainly feels like a Commander deck to me, with all of the resonant flavor and concepts of the format.

This deck is made possible only by considering what cards you could use to run a different sort of deck.

4). Non-Creature Legendary Cards That Become Creatures – A few players out there really like to run some legendary permanents that are connected to a creature:

Elbrus, the Binding Blade Genju of the Realm Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang

Why not run a deck with these legendary cards that become creatures? They certainly feel legendary, and they even have the legendary supertype. Sure, you can’t normally run Elbrus, the Binding Blade as your Commander, but why not? If everyone agrees, there’s no reason not to take Withengar Unbound for a spin, right? If your playgroup doesn’t mind, then Genju away!

You could also run the flip cards from Kamigawa Block that began life normally and then flip into a legendary creature if you meet certain conditions. You could run something like Budoka Gardener or Jushi Apprentice. They are very similar to the Kytheon, Hero of Akros/Gideon, Battle Forged cycle from Magic Origins, right? Plus it’s not like these cards would be mega-powerful or anything.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of zany ways you can flesh out your Commander decks by hewing a different path instead of sticking with just your typical legendary creature. Whether it’s Witch-Maw Nephilim or Genju of the Realms, El-Hajjaj, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, or even Nezumi Graverobber, we have a lot of options for you and your playgroup to consider. Why not embrace a different style for a while and try something new?

I don’t think people will shy away from the power level of your Uncle Istvan deck, after all.

P.S. –

One quick caveat – A lot of times when someone proposes that a playgroup change the rules to better suit them, they get pushback from others in the community. For example, multiple times in my articles I’ve suggested that people play a banned card in a certain deck (since it’s not being used in a negative way) or playing more than 100 cards, again if that’s alright by your group. But others respond, “Hey, that’s not Commander!” And this is an entire article about using different non-legendary Commanders. The whole thing is about breaking the rules, right?

From the Commander website:

House rules or “fair play” exceptions are always encouraged if they result in more fun for the local community.

I don’t think a Niall Silvain deck is out of flavor. It’s unlikely to be that powerful. And it certainly would result in “fun for the local community” a majority of the time. Now, if that’s not your thing, if you really don’t want to ever see a deck built around the leper Abu Ja’far at your table, then that’s fine. I get it. But I think it’ll be a lot of fun to enough people to make this article worth writing.