This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Commanding the Fallen

By Gibson aka KaipaLin

Hey everybody! If you’re just joining us, this is the third article in a series about the Nephilim, that cycle of bizarrely-limbed four-color monsters from Ravnica who really ought be legendary.

Given that they’re not actually legendary, but are definitely interesting and unique, we’re exercising our house-rule muscles and issuing the decree (with the consent of our gaming compatriots) that henceforth they shall be treated as legendary, with all the rights and responsibilities pursuant to their station. Of course, you may have trouble eliciting that consent, and since no player is an island (except blue mages, and who likes them?), you’re going to have to give a strong case as to why your unusual choice should be allowed. My favored tactic is to impress upon your fellow players how cool the deck is going to be: focus on building an interesting, unique deck, based around your Nephilim’s color identity and flavor (for Vorthos) and/or what it does mechanically (for Melvin). If you can incorporate both and construct your pitch to appeal to your fellow players, you should have relatively little trouble convincing them to let you take your wacky new deck out for a spin.

Enter today’s Fallen: the cruel, twisted, and strangely combat-focused Witch-Maw Nephilim. Essentially a mobile mouth, this Nephilim ignores the existence of red, not unlike some EDH players I know. Unfortunately, the absence of red mana does strange and terrible things to a mind: without passion, freedom, and individualism, ideas stagnate, responses are sluggish, and plans seem to progress infinitely without ever really concluding. On the other hand, without red’s focus on doing everything right now, this Nephilim can focus on the future. It crafts its plans carefully, recycling its resources and growing fat on power, preparing the perfect moment in which to strike. When the time is ripe, its opponents will find themselves suddenly ensnared its coils, their usual tricks useless and their demise soon at hand. If you’re really feeling it, give a maniacal laugh (and relish these moments, because really, you’re playing a deck with a bunch of +1/+1 counter creatures, so it won’t happen often). How to represent these twin foci in deck construction? In the future department, we’ll be playing recursion and lots of “growing” cards, while in the restraint department we’ll be adding some specific common-strategy hosers and a series of legendary creature and planeswalker packages.

Mechanically, the Witch-Maw Nephilim is all about growth; it starts off tiny but gains +1/+1 whenever you cast spells, becoming a thundering trampler easily capable of one- or two-shotting opponents. While adding Voltron elements could increase your speed in this department, I’ve found that the Nephilim gets the job done just fine all on its lonesome. All you really need to do to pump this guy to magnificent proportions is cast spells early and often. This has the tangential benefit of forwarding two game plans at once, and thus being twice as hard to deal with. Recursion does the lion’s share of making sure we have spells to cast at all points of the game. +1/+1 counters, meanwhile have other uses besides just making things big and smashy, so we’ll explore those avenues as well. On to the deck!

(The usual disclaimer: This deck isn’t especially budget friendly; it uses some very popular and hence expensive cards. Fortunately for the try-hards out there, a lot of these are so popular that you’ve probably got a copy in your collection somewhere. For the budget players, the principles behind the choices remain the same, and budget alternatives are available. Just fire up magiccards.info and get creative!) 

I Know All, I See All
The first subset of cards involves hating on some common strategies; in the absence of red, the Witch-Maw Nephilim cares nothing for your freedom to play your cards. Since the strongest of these hate cards are symmetrical, the deck is constructed in order to minimize their effects on us. After all, it’s fun when your opponents can’t play their game, right?Right.

A good number of these cards center around our first legend: Isperia the Inscrutable, sphinx champion of the Azorius guild. Her sneaky spy saboteur trigger helps you figure out what angle your opponent is planning to attack, and if you guess their hand correctly, you’ll even be able to tutor up a solution immediately afterwards.

Isperia the Inscrutable
Aven Mindcensor
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Voidstone Gargoyle
Glen Elendra Archmage
Gaddock Teeg
Torpor Orb
Hex Parasite
Grafdigger’s Cage
Nihil Spellbomb
Phyrexian Furnace

Cheap, efficient, and targeted hosers are often under-appreciated in EDH, primarily because of the variety of decks that show up in any given game and the inherent problems of running potential dead cards in 99 card singleton. Having some information-gathering like Isperia (and knowing your playgroup/common deck archetypes), combined with the variety of tutors in this list allows you to figure out which answers you need and, ideally, the opportunity to get them when you need them. These specific cards all hate on very common strategies, and so hopefully will be relevant in the majority of match-ups, but if something specific is ruining your day or warping your local group, these slots can be customized to take it down.

Some data, for those who want some justification for the symmetrical effects:
Gaddock Teeg: 8 cards hosed
Torpor Orb: 7 (this is including the graft guys, but only hoses the part where they give away their counters; additionally, Sun Titan continues to trigger when it attacks)
Grafdigger’s Cage: 3 cards hosed (includes Sun Titan trying to bring back creatures)

 

The Very Soil Shall Shake

Led by the tag-team duo of Innistrad’s still-living Lunarch Mikaeus and the older, wiser incarnation of Ajani, this section of cards focuses on buffing your team via +1/+1 counters. You could say their efforts are counter-productive.

Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Ajani Goldmane
Simic Initiate
Cathars’ Crusade
Forgotten Ancient
Gavony Township
Viral Drake
Inexorable Tide

The humble Simic Initiate, while not particularly impressive on his lonesome, makes a fine target for cheap recursion; in order to grow our Nephilim, this deck wants to be casting lots and lots of spells, and a self-sacrificing 1 mana guy with a lasting effect is much better in context than he might initially seem.

Inexorable Tide, your primary proliferate engine, and Forgotten Ancient also want to see as many spells cast as possible, to further spread around the counter-based lovin’. New favorite Gavony Township makes the cut over more situational brethren Oran-Rief the Vastwood and Novijen, Heart of Progress, but all are potential options. Incidentally, the combination of Cathars’ Crusade and Glen Elendra Archmage can result in table flipping levels of rage, so use it with caution.

A Display of My Dark Power
Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone feels threatened by your 7/8 flier and decides to kill it with extreme prejudice. What’s a poor bio-mage to do? The suite of cards led by Ghave, Guru of Spores, provides some answers:

Ghave, Guru of Spores
Plaxcaster Frogling
Novijen Sages
Sage of Fables
Oona’s Blackguard
Bramblewood Paragon
Protean Hydra

While Ghave himself serves as a traditional sac outlet and produces tokens which can pick up counters of their own, the pair of Sages forms one of the core engines of the deck. When combined with the Witch-Maw, they turn every spell cast into a cantrip that can be cashed in at any time, giving you more spells to cast which draws you more cards which, well, you get the idea. Plaxcaster Frogling offers some much needed protection to a surprisingly large number of your creatures, while Oona’s Blackguard and Bramblewood Paragon help your enhanced beaters close out the game. While the Hydra doesn’t technically do much on its lonesome besides be huge and hard to kill, it’s a relevant body at any point in the game, and it combines phenomenally with Ghave and the Sages. (potentially a cool band name, no?)

A side note: all these +1/+1 counters would certainly combine very well with the Persist ability from Shadowmoor block, so why is Glen Elendra Archmage the only persister in the deck? Grafdigger’s Cage is the primary answer: it hoses such a wide number of relevant EDH ‘staples’ that you really want to do your best to have it in play early and often, but it does hose your own persist creatures. One persister with a high amount of utility can make the cut, but a dedicated subtheme probably shouldn’t.

The Dead Shall Serve

One of the simplest ways to ensure that you always have spells to cast is to recur the ones you’ve drawn already. To that end, Karador, Ghost Chieftain is happy to lend his expertise; note that with the exception of Karador himself, all of your recursion functions under Grafdigger’s Cage, which certainly won’t be the case for most opponents.

Karador, Ghost Chieftain
Grim Harvest
Sword of Light and Shadow
Sun Titan
Genesis

Side note: In this deck, Sun Titan does recur your creatures, but his primary role is keeping your cogs and restrictive pieces in play. Oh, and don’t forget to recover your Grim Harvest!

The Pieces Are Coming Together 

Artifacts are the other simple permanent type to recur; combined with the ridiculous power level on some one- and two-drop artifacts, Glissa and Tezzeret are quite happy to help your Nephilim grow up big and strong.

Glissa, the Traitor

Auriok Salvagers
Salvaging Station
Academy Ruins
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Artificer’s IntuitionThe cog subtheme gives the deck some fun and rarely-seen enablers in Artificer’s Intuition, Auriok Salvagers, and Salvaging Station, as well as an on-theme but non-degenerate home for oft-maligned Academy Ruins. By including a substantial number of cogs, we can play on both axes of general utility, that is, one makes your general better, and the other makes your deck generally better. Okay, no more puns, I promise.

Plots That Span Centuries

In a given game, a large part of this deck’s success is based on its ability to find the right pieces to complement whatever you’ve already drawn or to properly flummox an opponent. To ensure your engines are running at full power, Captain Sisay summons whichever legendary creature you need most.

Captain Sisay
Survival of the Fittest
Garruk Relentless
Tezzeret the Seeker
Trinket Mage
Long-Term Plans

Most of the other tutors are fairly self explanatory. The Survival and flipped!Garruk particularly appreciate getting rid of Genesis, but the recursion suite will typically end up returning whatever you pitch at some point, so don’t worry overmuch about that. The only other thing I have to say here is that Long-Term Plans are absolutely crucial to winning a game of EDH. Crucial, I tell you!

The second set of cards provides some drawing and manipulation through small smoothing effects and large shots of card advantage alike. The Top/Future Sight combo in particular can make a VERY large Nephilim in addition to refilling your hand, and this is one of the few decks that can play an Etched Oracle that both survives its card-drawing trigger and also doesn’t particularly care if it’s played with maximizes sunburst.

Ponder
Sensei’s Divining Top
Etched Oracle
Future Sight
Enigma Sphinx

Behold the Power of Destruction

The fair-minded vampiric judge Vish Kal presides over the removal suite in this deck; I think we can all agree that he’s by far the preferable legendary Arbiter to see on the table, even if he is engaged in mauling all your creatures.

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Duplicant
Executioner’s Capsule
Powder Keg
Necroplasm
Austere Command
Qasali Pridemage
Dispeller’s Capsule

Most of the removal in this deck is targeted, and in theory single-use only, but these are prime targets for your recursion engines, and will typically come back to wreak havoc over and over again. You only have a very few sweepers, so use them sparingly. Necroplasm and Powder Keg can be tricky cards to get right, but with Hex Parasite and some proliferation, you can take opponents by surprise with a well-timed bait and switch.

Realms Befitting My Majesty

In a typical game, the Witch-Maw will devour as much mana as you care to provide it, so land ramp and searching, especially in the form of cogs and creatures, helps maximize the deck’s potential every turn. Being both easily tutored and recurred, a given land-searcher is often worth three, four, or more lands over the course of game, so try to maximize it and avoid walking one into graveyard hate.

Expedition Map
Sol Ring
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Dawntreader Elk
Fertilid

Last, but certainly not least, add a smattering of lands. For this four color lists, try to maximize your chances of getting multiple colors early rather than a bunch of one color; typically, those spells come later on your curve, once you’ve found a land-search card. Some of the nonbasics in this mana base are quite expensive, and while they are all powerful additions to the deck, a workable mana base can be constructed with much cheaper options. The decreased reliance on early-game fixing is just another bonus of running cogs! If you are having trouble with mana, don’t forget the set of artifact lands, which can be found by your artifact tutors.

When it’s all combined, you get the following Rube Goldberg-ian deck:

Escape to Witch Maw – Witch-Maw Nephilim EDH

General – Witch-Maw Nephilim (derp derp derp)

Creatures (34)
1x Auriok Salvagers
1x Aven Mindcensor
1x Bramblewood Paragon
1x Captain Sisay
1x Dawntreader Elk
1x Duplicant
1x Enigma Sphinx
1x Etched Oracle
1x Fertilid
1x Forgotten Ancient
1x Gaddock Teeg
1x Genesis
1x Ghave, Guru of Spores
1x Glen Elendra Archmage
1x Glissa, the Traitor
1x Hex Parasite
1x Isperia the Inscrutable
1x Karador, Ghost Chieftain
1x Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1x Mikaeus, the Lunarch
1x Necroplasm
1x Novijen Sages
1x Oona’s Blackguard
1x Plaxcaster Frogling
1x Protean Hydra
1x Qasali Pridemage
1x Sage of Fables
1x Sakura-Tribe Elder
1x Simic Initiate
1x Sun Titan
1x Trinket Mage
1x Viral Drake
1x Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
1x Voidstone Gargoyle

Artifacts (13)
1x Dispeller’s Capsule
1x Executioner’s Capsule
1x Expedition Map
1x Grafdigger’s Cage
1x Nihil Spellbomb
1x Phyrexian Furnace
1x Powder Keg
1x Salvaging Station
1x Sensei’s Divining Top
1x Sol Ring
1x Sword of Light and Shadow
1x Torpor Orb
1x Wayfarer’s Bauble

Planeswalkers (4)
1x Ajani Goldmane
1x Garruk Relentless
1x Tezzeret the Seeker
1x Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

Enchantments (5)
1x Artificer’s Intuition
1x Cathars’ Crusade
1x Future Sight
1x Inexorable Tide
1x Survival of the Fittest

Sorceries & Instants (4)
1x Austere Command
1x Grim Harvest
1x Long-Term Plans
1x Ponder

Lands (39)
1x Academy Ruins
1x Ancient Den
1x Arcane Sanctum
1x Breeding Pool
1x Command Tower
1x Drowned Catacomb
1x Fetid Heath
1x Flooded Grove
3x Forest
1x Gavony Township
1x Glacial Fortress
1x Godless Shrine
1x Hallowed Fountain
4x Island
1x Isolated Chapel
1x Llanowar Reborn
1x Mystic Gate
1x Overgrown Tomb
4x Plains
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Seaside Citadel
1x Seat of the Synod
1x Sunpetal Grove
2x Swamp
1x Temple Garden
1x Tree of Tales
1x Twilight Mire
1x Vault of Whispers
1x Watery Grave
1x Wooded Bastion

This deck is a blast for fans of incremental value engines and building enormous creatures. It can put together a dozen different engines, and plays differently every time despite its tutors. Try it out, and see if you can’t cover a table in little glass beads!

I hope you’ll join me in two weeks, when I get greedy with the Glint-Eye Nephilim. Until then, may you strive for your ideal future!

Gibson Haynes
@KaipaLin on Twitter and MTGSalvation

BEHIND THE SCENES BONUS: Here’s the original notes for the first draft of the deck. That draft was really, REALLY terrible.
“So what does a restriction of freedom lend itself to mechanically? The prison deck of course. But a typical prison deck is (for most) less than no fun to play or play against, so we’ll be making some modifications. By using mostly tempo-based aggro plan, we hope to win quickly, rather than grind out the game.
The deck plays a game of Esper prison and hate bears combined with Bant exalted to win an artificially shortened game via tempo advantage. For the long game, it also includes many elements of the BWG infinite recursion deck. When you combine these three elements together, you get a short game of tempo prison that actually finishes an opponent in a reasonable amount of time and a long game of recursion backed up by weenie swarms rather than haymakers.”

Actually, when you combine these three elements together, you draw a hand full of do-nothing out-of-order pieces, and if you do manage anything, it’s typically to tick off your opponents by existing.


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