Commander Top 10: Niambi, Esteemed Speaker

Niambi, Esteemed Speaker got Bennie Smith brewing! See what he built around the Core Set 2021 commander!

Niambi, Esteemed Speaker, illustrated by Eric Deschamps

Core Set 2021 is sweet!  I was lucky enough to participate in the Arena Early Access event sponsored by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) on Wednesday and played a lot of cool new cards, including Radha, Heart of Keld, which I wrote about last week.  This week I’d like to shift gears from the aggressive, beatdown-oriented Gruul deck with Radha to a slower, more controlling Azorius deck with Niambi, Esteemed Speaker at the helm.

Niambi, Esteemed Speaker

We saw the first version of Teferi’s daughter Niambi as Niambi, Faithful Healer, a legendary creature whose only ability was fetching up the Planeswalker Deck version of Teferi—Teferi, Timebender.  While Niambi, Faithful Healer didn’t really generate much interest as a commander, I think the new version is awesome!

Niambi, Esteemed Speaker packs a lot of power for just two mana.  She has flash, and her enters-the-battlefield ability returns a creature you control to its owner’s hand.  These two abilities combine to make her the perfect card to rescue a creature of yours that’s otherwise going to die to pinpoint removal or in combat.  The activated ability is quite powerful: for three mana, you tap Niambi and discard a legendary card to draw two new cards.  At the end of an opponent’s second turn, you could flash in Niambi, untap, play a third land, and have this ability ready to go right on curve. To ensure you can activate this ability when you want to, you’ll want to have plenty of legendary cards in your deck, though there will be some real tension because often legendary cards are quite powerful. 

Let’s get brewing!

1. Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage

Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage

Since we’ll want to lean heavily on legendary cards in our deck to ensure Niambi’s activated ability is live, that means Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage will be quite useful in keeping us operating at instant speed.  Raff plays quite nicely with Niambi’s flash ability; someone might point their instant-speed removal at another player’s threat since you’ve got Niambi ready to flash in, and then you can flash in Raff and untap and still be able to cast Niambi or now any legendary card.

So, let’s see what other legendary creatures I’m going to want:

Hope of Ghirapur Kytheon, Hero of Akros Fblthp, the Lost Barrin, Tolarian Archmage Mangara of Corondor Taranika, Akroan Veteran Venser, Shaper Savant Mangara, the Diplomat Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle God-Eternal Oketra Thryx, the Sudden Storm

A couple of weeks back I wrote about Mangara, the Diplomat which is fantastic as a commander but also quite good as one of the 99 in our Niambi deck.  The other version, Mangara of Corondor, also has great synergy here—you can activate Mangara of Corondor to exile a target permanent, and with the ability on the stack you can flash in Niambi and return Mangara to your hand to recast later.

Another new card that fits nicely in this deck is Barrin, Tolarian Archmage from Core Set 2021.  You can cast Barrin during your turn to bring Niambi back to your hand to flash back out later, and then Barrin’s triggered ability draws you a card.

God-Eternal Oketra and Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle both have triggered abilities that can certainly take advantage of Niambi’s flash ability.

2. Portal Mage

Portal Mage

Outside of legendary creatures, we’ll also want to make use of creatures that have enters-the-battlefield triggers so that Niambi can flash in and return them to our hand. Then we can recast them to benefit from the trigger all over again. One of the best here is Portal Mage, which can absolutely wreck someone who thinks the coast is clear to attack with a creature. If you have enough mana, you can flash out Portal Mage, change one attacking creature, flash out Niambi, return Portal Mage to your hand, and then flash Portal Mage back out again to change another attacking creature.

Enlightened Ascetic Monk Realist War Priest of Thune Stoneforge Mystic Suncleanser Momentary Blink Crystal Shard Keeper of Keys Sun Titan

Sun Titan would have been an easy choice for #2 here, but I decided that Portal Mage needed some time in the sun.  That said, Sun Titan is just nuts in any deck that can run it.

I’m including a lot of creatures that kill enchantments when they enter the battlefield because so many people play Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe. When those enchantments come down early, they can generate so much value that it’s imperative that you have an answer.   

Momentary Blink and Crystal Shard offer additional support doing the things we want to be doing in this deck.

3. Oboro, Palace in the Clouds

Oboro, Palace in the Clouds

Keeping our legendary count high, we can make use of a lot of legendary lands, and I think Oboro, Palace of the Clouds might be one of the best here.  It’s a source of blue mana that enters the battlefield untapped, and then later if you need a legendary permanent to feed to Niambi, you can easily bounce it back to your hand to discard.

Academy Ruins Hall of Heliod's Generosity Kor Haven Mikokoro, Center of the Sea Eiganjo Castle Flagstones of Trokair Mobilized District Blackblade Reforged Sword of the Animist Oketra's Monument

Mobilized District isn’t legendary, but it gets really good the more legendary creatures are on the battlefield.   I’m also finding room for some legendary artifacts like Oketra’s Monument here that could potentially get pitched to Niambi’s activated ability if we’re desperate.  Note that Academy Ruins could get one of them back later when the coast is clear.

4. Tolarian Kraken

Tolarian Kraken

I’d like to find some ways to untap Niambi so I can activate her multiple times, and the best of the bunch is another new card from Core Set 2021: Tolarian Kraken!  I mean first off, as a 4/6 this creature has a sizable body, but whenever you draw a card you can pay one mana to either tap or untap target creature. So, you can use it to untap Niambi to tap again, or you can use it aggressively to tap down potential blockers and then rumble on in with the Kraken and any other creature you want.

Minamo, School at Water's Edge Reconnaissance Thousand-Year Elixir

I also really like Thousand-Year Elixir since it lets you use Niambi the turn she enters the battlefield, and you can get an extra untap with her.  Reconnaissance lets you attack with Niambi if you need to (especially if she’s equipped with Blackblade Reforged) and then after damage is dealt you can untap Niambi and have her ready to activate her ability.  Note that you can’t activate Reconnaissance several times to get multiple activations from Niambi; once one activation resolves, Niambi is no longer an attacking creature.

5. Time Wipe

Time Wipe

As a good Azorius control deck, we need lots of removal spells and this color combination has some of the best.  I’m particularly happy about Time Wipe in this deck because of all the creatures we have that we’d be perfectly happy to return to our hand to deploy again.

The rest of the removal spells are what you’d expect:

Swords to Plowshares Reality Shift Supreme Verdict Wrath of God Crush Contraband

6. Atemsis, All-Seeing

Atemsis, All-Seeing

Atemsis, All-Seeing’s activated ability is very similar to Niambi’s—where Niambi discards a card to draw two cards, Atemsis draws two cards and then discards a card. But if you get both Atemsis, All-Seeing and Niambi on the battlefield at the same time, the amount of card filtering that’s going on means that Atemsis’s triggered ability from dealing damage to an opponent is a very real option for knocking out another player.

Skullclamp Chasm Skulker Nadir Kraken Dragonlord Ojutai Shabraz, the Skyshark Sphinx's Revelation

I’ve got some other cards that play nicely with the theme of drawing cards.  Shabraz, the Skyshark does a fine job even without its partner, getting quite large and gaining life in conjunction with Niambi’s card draw ability.  And since Niambi is a Human, you can even give her flying with Shabraz’s activated ability.

7. Sword of Feast and Famine

Sword of Feast and Famine

If you’ve been paying attention to the Standard format these days, you’ve seen how powerful it is to double your mana with Fires of Invention and Wilderness Reclamation. We’d definitely like to tap into that sort of thing in our Commander deck.  Since we’re not playing green we can’t play Seedborn Muse, but we can use Sword of Feast and Famine.  Being able to use our mana on our turn, and then untap all our lands with a Sword trigger when we want to have reactionary spells available is going to be incredibly powerful.

Sol Ring Wayfarer's Bauble Arcane Signet Talisman of Progress Azorius Signet Mind Stone Burnished Hart Solemn Simulacrum

Since mana is going to be so important given Niambi’s expensive activation cost, I’ve stuffed in many of the usual mana ramp suspects.

8. Fierce Guardianship

Fierce Guardianship

In addition to removal spells, Azorius decks will want some number of counterspells, and the best of the bunch is the new card Fierce Guardianship. This card is crazy expensive, but if you can go out and snap up the Commander preconstructed deck it’s in, you definitely want a copy of it in this deck. This lets you tap out to cast Niambi with flash or activate Niambi and not let your shields down to a noncreature spell.

Swan Song Dovin's Veto Arcane Denial

I’m not real heavy on too many other counterspells since I’m not interested in shutting down people playing their game; these are mostly in here to give me an out in case I need to save my bacon from certain death.

9. Flawless Maneuver

Flawless Maneuver

White provides us with some nice ways to protect our cards; why counterspell someone’s Wrath of God when you can just make your creatures indestructible with Flawless Maneuver and watch everyone else’s creatures get destroyed?  All the nice things I mentioned above with Fierce Guardianship apply here with white’s version of the “free if you control your commander” cycle.

Mother of Runes Selfless Savior Selfless Spirit

Another gem from Core Set 2021, Selfless Savior joins the pantheon of small white creatures that put a strain on opponents’ removal spells.

10. Shadowspear


To round things out, we want some more ways to interact with our opponents’ plans, and among my favorites is Shadowspear. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve played where I find out opponents still haven’t added Shadowspear to their decks, and while I appreciate it as their opponent, I’m going to keep evangelizing and putting Shadowspear on my Top 10 lists until it sinks in.  It’s cheap to cast, cheap to equip, adds two relevant keyword abilities but then the icing on the cake is for just one generic mana you take hexproof and indestructible away from all your opponents’ creatures. Play it. Play it.

Play it.

Also, don’t forget some graveyard interaction!

Scavenger Grounds Soul-Guide Lantern

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Niambi, Esteemed Speaker
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 06-25-2020
Magic Card Back

Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Moxfield:

What do you think?  Are there any cards I’ve overlooked?  If you see any new cards from Core Set 2021 that should find a home here, let me know!

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do a deckbuilding stream every Monday evening, and pepper in some other Commander-related streams when I can.  If you can join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!


SCG Advertisement