My preferred strategy for convincing others to let me try out unconventional things like a Nephilim general is to make that choice central to the logic of the deck; in other words, to build around it. As both an avid Vorthos and Melvin, I appreciate decks that center flavorfully and mechanically around their general. So how does that apply to this week’s headless, cyclopean, bizarrely-appendaged monstrosity?
Flavorfully, the Glint-Eye Nephilim discards white, and with white go thoughts of selflessness, cooperation, and hope. Without white, the Nephilim focuses inward; it’s perfectly happy to throw anyone under the bus and enjoys playing its enemies against one another. This Nephilim’s primary motivators are selfishness and greed, and really, what epitomizes those better than excessive card draw? All the colors except for white have some pretty fantastic ways to draw cards, but that’s not all. Next-leveling the self-centered nature of the Glint-Eye Nephilim, and incorporating the third and final lesson of today’s article, we’ll be discussing ways to make your opponents work for you. After all, outdrawing an entire table doesn’t just happen every game, so why waste all that energy when your frenemies can do the job for you? On to the card choices!
A Rush of Knowledge to the Head
To be totally blunt, the main focus of this deck is drawing cards. Above and beyond any other activity, while directing the Glint-Eye Nephilim you want to be ripping from the top of your library and stuffing your hand full. As basically everyone knows by now, more cards equals more options, and more options tend to equal more wins. Unfortunately, your opponents realize this too, and may get suspicious if you do nothing but pad your hand turn after turn. To avoid too much negative attention, and to ensure that you have the opportunity to actually impact the game, you’re going to need some draw spells that function a bit differently from the prototypical Careful Considerations of constructed competitive Draw-Go decks.
These proactive draw spells fall into two camps: saboteurs and gradual draw. ‘Saboteur’ is the nickname for creatures that have an ability that triggers upon dealing (typically combat) damage, in this case drawing one or more cards. Not only are you dealing damage to opponents, but you’re also expecting to get cards for it; pretty greedy, if you ask me. While the Nephilim is the ringleader of your saboteurs, several all-stars compose your crack team:
SturmgeistEdric and Coastal Piracy turn every creature you’ll ever play into an Ophidian look-alike, and Edric himself serves as a potent political tool; most players will take the bait and swing at each other rather than risk missing out on drawing cards. The other three, meanwhile, all sport some form of evasion, with the Selkie mirroring our generals’ ability to potentially draw several cards in one hit and the Geist acting as a potential game-ending beater all on its own.
Typically innocuous enough to avoid instant destruction, Phyrexian Arena and Ceta Sanctuary are nevertheless going to garner enormous advantage over the course of a game. The sheer number of cards that pass through a hand when Mindmoil is in play can be astonishing, and enables one of the primary victory strategies of this deck. Meanwhile, the notorious holy Sphinx breaks all the conventions; not only does this guy (gal?) have huge potential, his (her?) power level is through the roof as well. Sticking one or two of these bad boys, or girls or enchantments or demons, will put you in a position to take over a long game.
The other side of the coin from these proactive draw spells are the activated card drawers. Rather than a constant trickle, these bursts of cards require you to make a conscious decision about when to pull the trigger. These tend to draw more attention, although generally still less than dramatic on-board plays will, and are valuable because they tend to provide a whole boatload of power in a single card. In some games, there just isn’t time to wait around for the right card to come along. Sometimes, you need to draw a whole bunch of cards right now, and these are the tools for doing just that:
Greed is practically the theme song for this deck, and the big papa demon Griselbrand, though sadly lacking functional hands, can put our own hand size over the top. The Rush tends to draw at least four cards, but has the potential to draw as many as ten with Kozilek in play. Incidentally, Cosi is often used as much for its shuffle effect as for its huge body and the glad Tidings it brings. Krosan Tusker and the Magus are both utility and pseudo ramp with smaller effects, but also a proportionally lower cost, while the various Wheel effects are typically the knock-out punch at the end of the game. Don’t forget, though, that a properly timed Wheel can really frustrate a combo-player’s plans, and Time Spiral can do the same for graveyard decks.
Shall We Dance (through the red zone)?
With a decent set of saboteurs and a general thoroughly capable of winning through general damage, it behooves us to include a series of enhancements to guide our fighters through the battlefield unscathed.
The three Incarnations here, as well as Genesis later on, interact with the discard subtheme the Glint-Eye promotes. It’s not uncommon to swing in with a previously quite blockable team and have them suddenly take to the skies with a surprise discarded Wonder. While the Swords and the hammer are known quantities, it should be noted that the lifegain they provide is intended to help offset your Greed. The Mask continues the theme of build-your-own Scroll Thief, but the big one here is the Diviner’s Wand. The power/toughness boost granted by the Wand, especially in conjunction with all of the various draw sources in the deck, can turn even the most innocuous critter into a player-killing machine.
Nothing Else Matters (but drawing cards)
Card drawing is a lot of fun, but it’s not an end in and of itself; it’s only the means to an end of having more stuff to do than your opponents. Unless, that is, we could find some cards that let us win just by drawing and holding onto cards, and in fact there are! The first set of cards cares only about the potential for drawing cards, and replaces them with other effects, while the second set actively rewards getting more cards in hand and keeping them there.
There’s a lot going on here, but hopefully it’s all fairly self-explanatory. Niv-Mizzet and the Crawler can do some pretty solid work closing out games, especially with an active Mindmoil or Consecrated Sphinx. Meanwhile, Empyreal Plate turns all your creatures into Maros, which is a substantial power boost given all the drawing, and is especially funny (and exponential) on the Glint-Eye Nephilim. The various better-than-Spellbooks are often quite handy, especially the lifegain from the journal, and the several draw replacement effects can all be quite powerful. More importantly, they are all optional, so they won’t prevent your Crawler or Niv wins. If ever there were a deck for Archmage Ascension, the poster child of win-more, it would be this most greedy of lists. Sylvan Library becomes downright terrifying when it’s tutoring you three cards a turn.
Fifty Ways to Redirect Your Lover
Adept application of table politics is perhaps the single most valuable skill to multiplayer Magic. Learning how to bend other players to a common goal will let you wins games that, from a power-level standpoint you had no right winning. Table talk is the quintessential weapon in the political player’s arsenal, but a good number of cards allow you to manipulate your opponents in-game without having to rely on their good will. Giving opponents extra resources with group-hug cards like Phelddagrif rarely results in actual goodwill from opponents; typically they’re quite happy to turn around and beat you over the head with the new toys you just gave them. In a similar vein, pillow-fort cards like Ghostly Prison can be reasonably effective against some, but just pique others to attack you even more frequently. My preferred method of direction involves incentivizing my opponents to do what I want, with cards like these:
The curses and Pain Magnification allow your opponents to get more bang for their buck, but only if they do things a certain way: your way. The reason this is even marginally effective, though, is due to the multiplayer nature of most EDH games. At least one opponent will probably be okay following your lead, and the benefits that player accrues will put him or her ahead of the rest of your opponents; essentially, you get to place your opponents in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Edric, Spymaster of Trest functions in a similar manner here. The redirection effects are a bit less subtle, but no less fun; there’s no flow moment quite like totally upending a game with a perfectly timed Wild Ricochet.
(Mana) Fix You // Breaking Down
The final section of this article is typically the first that I pay attention to during deck construction: the nuts and bolts, ramp and removal. Every deck ought to have some method of jumping the curve or at least fixing its mana, and just as important, every deck should have some bare minimum number of ways to interact with opposing players’ plans. The trick with these two sections, the key that turns a deck from competent to elegant, is to incorporate the main themes of the deck into the utilitarian spaces too. So how do we ramp in a deck full of card draw?
By banking on having extra cards in hand, of course! The classic Exploration and its variants allow you to dump every land that wanders into your hand onto the battlefield, should you wish. Meanwhile, Sad Robot and the Suicide Hippie (another potential band name!) both provide lands and extra card drawing, and the spellshapers allow us to turn any spare card into a Harrow or Rampant Growth, respectively.
Meanwhile, in the removal department, we have a small but select group of spells running interference between us and the nasty critters our opponents are playing.
Big Game Hunter and the flashback on Sever are, of course, nods to the continuing discard subtheme; a Madness-ed Hunter makes for a great combat trick! Rending Vines and Maelstrom Pulse can deal with those permanents that totally prevent us from winning; usually they’re conserved for problems like Possessed Portal or Vicious Shadows, things that would really ruin our day. The black Decree is still one of the best draw spells ever printed, and also just so happens to be a wrath. Lastly Spiraling Embers, which can provide some surprising reach, especially in the late game. In conjunction with Reiterate, you can drop opponents from out of nowhere.
The final step is, of course, the manabase. For this deck, the colors are fairly balanced, with a preference for at least one green early game, two red in the mid game, and as many black as possible for the late game. Other than that, a contingent of cycling lands adds a final layer of innocuous filtering, Reliquary Tower provides one final Spellbook, and Volrath’s Stronghold works in some recursion that, given our ridiculous levels of card draw, doesn’t even clog the top of the deck.
With all of that combined, we get the following list:
I Spy With My Glinting Eye – Glint-Eye Nephilim EDH
1x Azusa, Lost but Seeking
1x Big Game Hunter
1x Bloodgift Demon
1x Cold-Eyed Selkie
1x Consecrated Sphinx
1x Dreamscape Artist
1x Edric, Spymaster of Trest
1x Grave Scrabbler
1x Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
1x Krosan Tusker
1x Magus of the Library
1x Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
1x Oracle of Mul Daya
1x Psychosis Crawler
1x Shadowmage Infiltrator
1x Silverglade Pathfinder
1x Solemn Simulacrum
1x Yavimaya ElderArtifacts (8)
1x Diviner’s Wand
1x Empyrial Plate
1x Library of Leng
1x Loxodon Warhammer
1x Mask of Riddles
1x Sword of Fire and Ice
1x Sword of War and Peace
1x Venser’s JournalEnchantments (15)
1x Archmage Ascension
1x Ceta Sanctuary
1x Coastal Piracy
1x Curse of Bloodletting
1x Curse of Stalked Prey
1x Pain Magnification
1x Phyrexian Arena
1x Sylvan Library
1x Words of War
1x Words of Wilding
1x Command Tower
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Savage Lands
1x Crumbling Necropolis
1x Blood Crypt
1x Graven Cairns
1x Fire-Lit Thicket
1x Sunken Ruins
1x Cascade Bluffs
1x Flooded Grove
1x Twilight Mire
1x Forgotten Cave
1x Tranquil Thicket
1x Remote Isle
1x Polluted Mire
1x Slippery Karst
1x Smoldering Crater
1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1x Volrath’s Stronghold
1x Reliquary Tower
If you’ve ever drawn an extra card and enjoyed it, this just might be the deck for you. It’s interesting to play, because it feels like a combo deck when jamming the Niv/Crawler angle, but like a typical tap-out big-stuff haymaker deck in other games, and it’s very rare to feel totally out of options while piloting this deck. If you put together one of these lists, let me know; I’m always eager to hear about your Nephilim adventures!