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All The Bolas!

What better time to make a Nicol Bolas-themed Commander deck? Bennie Smith makes a deep dive into all Magical things Bolas and shares his discoveries!

Prerelease weekend for War of the Spark is in the books, and I hope everyone who wanted to go was able to play at least one tournament with some of the new cards. We went on Saturday and had a great time. I opened both Ugin, the Ineffable and big boss Liliana, Dreadhorde General in my card pool, so black was a given. None of my other colors were too deep, so I ended up with green and white with the black. I was actually a little surprised at how little mana fixing there was available and really missed Guildgates. I had a Guild Globe, a Prismite, and a New Horizons to help things along. It was loose and I got color screwed a few times, but it was good enough to go 3-1 and take home four extra booster packs for my troubles.

With the release of War of the Spark, we have the newest and possibly last incarnation of the multiverse’s greatest archvillain: Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God!

I thought now was the time to go ahead and brew up the definitive “every Nicol Bolas in existence” Commander deck—Bolas Tribal, if you will. I’ve done this before in recent years, but given that this is the culmination of the Bolas story arc, now is the time to do it right. I started out with every Nicol Bolas, searched for every card with Bolas in the title, expanded the search to Nicol Bolas quoted in flavor text, and finally checked all the various cards that depict various Nicol Bolas-related things. Turns out Nicol Bolas has showed up to one degree or another in a whole lot of sets over the history of Magic and there are actually way too many cards to fit into one Commander deck. So with some discernment, I picked the best of the best in terms of power, playability and fun and had the makings of a pretty potent and evil deck befitting the Multiverse’s Big Bad.

Of course, since we have an abundance of Nicol Bolas riches, we actually have two choices for our Commander, so which one should we run?

The original gangster Nicol Bolas has a ton of coolness cache, especially if you have the version from Legends. But there are plenty of other more affordable choices as well—from Chronicles, Time Spiral, Masters 25 or From the Vault: Dragons. The problem with that version of Nicol Bolas is that there are many incentives to take advantage of its special ability with things like Dragon Tempest or Psionic Gift when that’s your commander. I lean more towards Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, since you can turn it into a planeswalker and so many of your other Nicol Bolas cards are planeswalkers too. Any sort of planeswalker support will work with your commander and all the other planeswalker cards.

Okay, let’s get brewing!

Nicol Bolas and Planeswalkers

First up are all the Nicol Bolas cards. The planeswalker deck version Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver is the only version of Bolas that looks a little on the weak side, but for the sake of completeness for Bolas tribal, I think it’s fine to take a slot for it. Plus, we get to make full use of Visage of Bolas.

Then of course there’s the brand-new card Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. That static ability is unique and cool, but it’s also blunted just a little bit by the activated abilities which are great all on their own. However, there are a couple of other versions of Bolas with abilities that add loyalty much faster—God-Pharaoh and the Arisen (the back side of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager) are both +2, while Planeswalker and the Deceiver and both +3. Dragon-God only needs four extra loyalty to activate the ultimate.

Which leads me to Teferi, Temporal Archmage. If we could somehow get that emblem and start activating multiple Bolas planeswalkers during each opponent’s turn? Woosh, that’s living the dream right there! I was a little torn about adding non-Bolas planeswalkers to the deck before I remembered that we’re living through War of the Spark—this is all about Bolas luring a bunch of planeswalkers to battle so he can take advantage of their abilities and ultimately their planeswalker spark. So if the planeswalkers add useful effects to the mix, I think it’s fine flavor-wise.

Narset, Parter of Veils and Ashiok, Dream Render are new planeswalkers that are nice at shutting down some of the more egregious things your opponents can do in Commander. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer can churn out some Servo tokens as chump blockers that can sometimes be turned into threats. Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor makes it more difficult for your opponents to interact with your threats with pinpoint removal.

I wanted one of the Lilianas in here too, but with so many Nicol Bolas cards costing a lot of mana, I wanted one of the lower-cost versions and ended up going with Liliana, Heretical Healer. Her lifelink ability as a creature can help pad life totals a little bit, and when she transforms into Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, her abilities there are quite nice, especially the ultimate.

Mana Ramp

Nicol Bolas cards are quite expensive in general, so I wanted to ensure I had plenty of mana ramp. Chromatic Lantern was one of the first cards I added to my list because so many of the cards are highly color-intensive – especially Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. The temporary mana you can get with both versions of Neheb and Mana Geyser can be a big help casting our more expensive planeswalkers ahead of curve.

Removal

The Grixis color combination has a ton of removal options and I’ve included a bunch of them here. I’ve added a fair number of artifact removal spells, since The Immortal Sun will be a huge thorn in our plans and it’s a fairly popular card in Commander. I cannot wait to see the sort of crazy things are possible when I cast The Elderspell in a long, drawn-out game of Commander with this deck—there is potential to add so much loyalty to fuel truly insane ultimate abilities.

I’m thinking I have enough ways to pay life in the deck to help fuel Font of Agonies despite my commander choice not really helping out. In particular I love it in combination with Slaughter’s buyback life loss.

Nevinyrral’s Disk is a classic, and it is doubly good here since it leaves all of your planeswalkers untouched while destroying every other non-land permanent.

And seriously, Dark Intimations has never been as good as it is in this deck!

Control

While I feel Bolas appreciates the chaos of battle, we do know he likes to tilt the playing field in his direction when possible, so I’m including a fair amount of control cards outside of pure removal. A fair number of these have Bolas in the art or in the flavor text. Fuel for the Cause is not a card I’ve played before, but with all the planeswalkers the proliferate is too tempting. I also like the exile effect attached to No Escape along with the scry.

Card Drawing/Selection

A fair number of these have a ton of Bolas flavor tied up in them outside of being just decent cards too. Deliver Unto Evil is going to be backbreaking in a deck with all the Nicol Bolas planeswalkers. I think God-Eternal Kefnet will be quite good, especially in conjunction with Scroll Rack—put your removal spell on top of your library with Scroll Rack, cast a discount copy from the top of your deck with Kefnet as you draw it, and repeat as needed. Scroll Rack also works nicely with Bolas’s Citadel, a card I’m really looking forward to playing in all sorts of Commander decks. I was certainly tempted to add Sensei’s Divining Top to emulate Yawgmoth’s Bargain, but I think that’s going a bit too far into combo land for my tastes, though I have no doubt Bolas would have zero qualms about it.

I’m not 100% sold on Soul Diviner, since there aren’t too many good counters to plunder outside of planeswalkers and loyalty seems way too valuable to cash in for cards. My plan currently is using it as a way to squeeze a card from a planeswalker when it’s already being destroyed by my opponent.

Grixis Good Stuff

With all the Bolas planeswalkers in the deck, Wasp of the Bitter End is going to do some work. I’m also looking forward to enjoying the proliferate cards Karn’s Bastion, Thrummingbird and Flux Channeler with my planeswalkers. Aetherflux Reservoir will hopefully help offset some the many cards that require life in the deck.

Sweet deck! But wait, there are too many cards. I’ll start by looking at our mana curve:

Converted Mana Cost

Number of Cards

1

9

2

16

3

14

4

12 + commander

5

11

6

5

7+ / X

5

73 total cards plus 39 lands equals twelve cards too many, so we need to make some cuts! Let’s see what we can trim, starting with the top of our curve.

Commence the Endgame has so much Bolas flavor I don’t want to cut it, but all the cards that are more expensive are actual Nicol Bolas cards or Cruel Ultimatum, and some hard cuts are needed. Ultimately, Commence is only drawing two cards and creating a (likely) big creature at instant speed, which feels a little underpriced for six mana. I like the rush of mana that Neheb, the Eternal and Mana Geyser provide, but all the other five-mana cards just seem like they’re better.

I think Blood Reckoning is an easy cut here, but cutting these two planeswalkers was a little tougher. Ultimately, I don’t know they contribute enough to the deck to warrant their slots. Lastly, I’m not sure that I’m running enough creatures to make Soul Manipulation more than an expensive Essence Scatter.

I’ve got a ton of two-mana spells in my initial list, so a few cuts were going to land here. I really love both Lazotep Plating and Tyrant’s Scorn for flavor reasons but I’m not sure they’re doing enough work here compared to other cards. Imp’s Mischief has great Bolas flavor text, but I don’t think we have enough lifegain in this deck to justify running it. Besides, the card has much more value as a surprise pseudo-counterspell coming from a non-blue deck.

Even if we don’t count all the destruction that the Nicol Bolas planeswalkers can unleash, I’ve still got a bunch of creature removal spells, so I think it’s safe to cut a few of them with our last few cuts. I don’t really have a bunch of sacrificial fodder to justify running Spark Harvest. And Pongify is better in decks that don’t have access to black’s removal.

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

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Bennie Smith
0th Place at Test deck on 04-29-2019
Commander


What do you think? Are there any other slam-dunk inclusions I’ve overlooked? And if you see any new cards from War of the Spark that should find a home here, let me know!

Oh, by the way, I got a token card included in the next series of Star City Games Personality Tokens, available starting May 1st!

I am thrilled and honored to get my mug immortalized on this awesome Matrix-inspired token card. Go check out this link to find out how you can get your hands on some! And if you’re able to come attend the Commander Celebration at SCG CON in June, you’ll get to come play me and see some of these tokens in action as I make copies of sweet creatures.

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!

Deck Database

Below I’ve got links to decks I’ve written about going back to January 2017. If you want to read the associated article, just put “Bennie Smith” and the commander name into Google and it should pop right up. I’ve written a lot about Commander — and Magic in general — so if you want to explore further, the Star City Games article archives have my articles all the way back to January 2000!

Commander Compare & Contrast

Zedruu, the Greathearted with Emma Handy

Nahiri, the Lithomancer with Anthony Alongi

Feldon of the Third Path with The Professor

Commander Strategy

Why You Should Commander Like Me

Let’s Talk About Lands

Who Should I Attack?

Targeted Removal in Commander

War of the Spark

Feather, the Redeemed, Massacre Girl, Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion

Ravnica Allegiance

The Haunt of Hightower, Teysa Karlov, Prime Speaker Vannifar, Rakdos, the Showstopper, Nikya of the Old Ways, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Judith, the Scourge Diva

SCG CON Winter 2018

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow, Grothama, All-Devouring; Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis; Feldon of the Third Path; Ramos, Dragon Engine; Inalla, Archmage Ritualist; Prossh, Skyraider of Kher; Brago, King Eternal

Ultimate Masters

Garna, the Bloodflame

Guilds of Ravnica

Niv Mizzet, Parun, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Lazav, the Multifarious (decklist in the comments), Tajic, Legion’s Edge, Etrata, the Silencer, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

Commander 2018

Aminatou, the Fateshifter, Xantcha, Sleeper Agent, Lord Windgrace, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer

Core Set 2019

Sai, Master Thopterist, Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma, Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, Chromium, the Mutable

Battlebond

Grothama, All-Devouring

Dominaria

Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, Grand Warlord Radha, Arvad the Cursed, Muldrotha, the Grave Tide, Slimefoot, the Stowaway, Yargle, Glutton of Urborg, Squee, the Immortal, Firesong and Sunspeaker, Jodah, Archmage Eternal, Tiana, Ship’s Caretaker

Masters 25

Hanna, Ship’s Navigator

Rivals of Ixalan

Azor, the Lawbringer, Etali, Primal Storm, Nezahal, Primal Tide, Zacama, Primal Calamity, Tetzimoc, Primal Death, Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Unstable

Grusilda, Monster Masher, Dr. Julius Jumblemorph

Ixalan

Vona, Butcher of Magan, Tishana, Voice of Thunder, Admiral Beckett Brass, Gishath, Sun’s Avatar

Commander 2017

Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist, O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami, Mairsil, the Pretender, Taigam, Ojutai Master

Hour of Devastation

Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Zur, the Enchanter (Mummy’s Curse), Djeru, With Eyes Open, The Locust God, Karona, False God (All the Deserts), Nicol Bolas, Neheb, the Eternal

Amonkhet

Oketra the True, Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, Atogatog (Cartouches & Trials), Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, Samut, Voice of Dissent, Rhonas the Indomitable, Hazoret the Fervent

Kaladesh Block

Yahenni, Undying Partisan, Nicol Bolas, Child of Alara (Five-Color Energy), Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, Sram, Senior Edificer

Commander 2016

Breya, Etherium Shaper, Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, Tymna the Weaver // Ravos, Soultender

Other Commander Decks

Thada Adel, Acquisitor, The Ultimate Golgari Deck, Anafenza, the Foremost (shutting down shenanigans), Momir Vig, Simic Visionary (no green creatures), Kytheon, Hero of Akros (Tribal Gideon), Tasigur, the Golden Fang