This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Commanding the Fallen
By Gibson aka KaipaLin

Hey there! Welcome back to our lofty peak, from whence we gaze upon the fifth and final Fallen, the Ink-Treader Nephilim. This guy/gal/Lovecraftian-tentacle-horror has been making some big-time splashes as the head of my very own Nephilim deck- which, I suppose, is to be expected, given all that ink it’s treading through.
As you may have already realized, the Ink-Treader falls in a weird place for an EDH general- namely, it’s not actually legendary. Thank goodness, then, that we’re playing a casual format where rules are mutable and based on consensus decisions of the local players! The shadowy cabal of the Rules Committee notwithstanding, the final arbiters will always be the people across the table, so the first rule of playing with a Nephilim is that your opponents agree to your shenanigans. “And how might I engender such agreement,” you ask? Well, why not:

And shenanigans aplenty are the inevitable result when the Ink-Treader Nephilim wades its way onto the battlefield. This copy-mongering rascal begs to be built around; not only is it the only RGWU card in all the 10,000+ cards in Magic, but it also has a quite unique effect, a Boros-esque radiance on steroids for any and all single-target spells. It’s splashy and exciting, and helps create the sort of memorable games that drew many of us to the format in the first place. But how to decide on the spells the Ink-Treader should mirror?My favored method, which just so happens to impress upon your fellow players how cool the deck can be, is to focus on the Nephilim’s color identity and flavor (for Vorthos) and its mechanical operation (for Melvin) in motivating your card choices for the other 99. If you can incorporate both, not only will you come out with an interesting and (typically) fun deck, but you’ll have a ready-made rationale for playing your atypical general in the form of a stable of sorcerous accoutrements catering exclusively to the Ink-Treader.

Fortunately for us, the Ink-Treader Nephilim’s flavor and mechanics match up quite seamlessly. By excising black, the Ink-Treader removes all self-interest, and possibly even the concept of the self. It is possessed by an overriding desire to share, and not just the kind you were encouraged to do in primary school, with the blocks and the crayons. Any experience, great or small, becomes a locus for the communication of experience- in its deepest heart (and it has about five, depending on the heat index and the phases of the moon) this Nephilim desires nothing less than the total unification of all life. It takes up green and white’s focus on community with all the zealotry of red and compulsive fastidiousness of blue. Elesh Norn’s Machine Orthodoxy ain’t got nothin on this. Control-changing cards like Act of Treason and its ilk help gather that community under one banner- yours- while some token generators and copy spells help ensure that the board is well populated even if your opponents are spoilsports and eschew creatures of their own.

Mechanically, the Ink-Treader Nephilim has a serious love affair with single-target instants and sorceries. While this may seem a quite narrow restriction, a quick search reveals nearly eight hundred options to choose from- perhaps we’ll be able to find a few we like.  Various types of removal become amped up beyond belief when pointed at our mirror-mad general- Unsummons cause mass Evacuations, a simple Flame Slash does its best Flame Wave impression, and a single Gaze of Justice renders Final Judgment on the board. Unfortunately for us, the Ink-Treader’s zeal for reflection is so great that it applies to all single-target spells, even those cast by wicked opponents intent on wrecking our plans. As such, it behooves us to have some contingency plans- whether blink spells, damage prevention, or protection granting- that we can use to save our creatures and perhaps net some incremental value as well.

I’m going to do something a little different this week. Since there are so many different ways to build a deck around ol’ Inky, this week will cover categories of effects that work especially well with it, and next week we’ll look at some completed decklists, including my own. On to the categories!

‘Tripping Along

The first “category”, if it can be called such, is more an overarching theme. If any of you enjoyed making terrible golem-tribal decks in Scars limited like I did, you may have experienced the joy that is casting a cantrip like Twisted Image on your Precursor Golem and reaping the rewards of a totally unfair mana-to-cards-drawn ratio. Ink-Treader lets us do this sort of feat writ large, drawing a card off each creature on the board, at instant speed, for one or two mana. Seems okay, right?

Twisted Image
Viridescent Wisps
Niveous Wisps
Crimson Wisps
Cerulean Wisps
Fleeting Distraction
Panic
Leap
Thermal Flux
Heal

Having the proper density of cantripping effects like this is key to making most Ink-Treader builds function. Though we all love living in Magical Christmasland where Nephilim resolve and hang around for multiple turns, accruing value wildly and unchecked, the sad truth is that people will target your guy with extreme prejudice, or at least with extreme will to make their own crazy shenanigans happen. Including a suite of cantrips allows us to respond to opponents’ actions by generating value, without necessarily committing us to stopping whatever it is they’re trying to do. If you can tailor the other marginal effects to your advantage, so much the better. For instance, Leap, Panic, and Viridescent Wisps all increase in value in an aggressive or pump-based build, while Fleeting Distraction and Niveous Wisps can put you ahead in a more controlling shell. One final point on this paramount category: mixing in some of the normally sub-par delayed cantrips from Ice Age block like Heal and Panic can be really great if you’re not digging for specific answers, as the delayed draw lets you hold potentially quite a few cards in your hand past the discard phase.

Target Practice

The Ink-Treader Nephilim is very creature-focused, and a deck built around it thus dedicates the majority of its slots to interacting with creatures. Unfortunately, not everyone lives in our little creature-centric world, and powerful artifacts, enchantments, and lands are at the center of many strategies.# In addition, some decks actively avoid having creatures out on the board, curmudgeons that they are, and sitting down with one of them can seriously cramp our style. Fortunately, we have ways of creating some creatures even when casting them isn’t particularly feasible. Enter the transformers:

Titania’s Song
March of the Machines
Opalescence
Tezzeret the Seeker
Natural Affinity
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa

These guys all animate non-creature permanents in some manner, giving us some ready-made creatures to reflect spells onto and also allowing our creature-focused arsenal a wider range of interactions. Some personal favorites here are Titania’s Song, which can totally shut down an artifact deck all by its lonesome, and Kamahl, who threatens doom on opposing mana-bases in the face of mass removal. Beware mass land-animation, because it can backfire in a devastating manner. If the lure of easily creating twenty new targets is too strong, though, give it a shot! The Ink-Treader loves making a splash!


 

Next, we’ll move into the most obvious section: removal. For most of us, our first thought on seeing the Ink-Treader Nephilim went something like, “Whoa, you mean I can Lightning Helix it and hit EVERYTHING?!” So yes, yes you can. And you should! While a lot of playgroups are rife with combos and graveyard abuse, just as many close out every game with good old red zone action. Since we’re pretty uniquely positioned to slap down creature decks, here are some tools to keep in mind.

Capsize
Whirlpool Whelm
Aether Mutation
Snap

Bounce is a pretty basic tool in your arsenal- it removes threats from the board temporarily, and can get your Nephilim out of some tricky situations while reusing enters-the-battlefield guys. Notable inclusions are Capsize, which keeps going and going and going and may cause opponents to strangle you, Whirlpool Whelm, which can bury opposing generals deep in a library and also acts as a pseudo tutor via Clash, and the bombtastic Aether Mutation, which can a turn board position around so fast you might get whiplash. My favorite in this category is Snap, which looks like a humble bounce spell, but in reality is an enormous mana ritual. Simply Snap your Nephilim, and all your opponents lose their creatures, while you can tap your lands in response to the individual resolutions, netting enough mana to recast all the guys in your hand and generating a massive tempo swing.

Flame Slash
Chandra’s Outrage
Lightning Helix
Brightflame

Burn is less commonly seen in EDH, but the sheer mana advantage you can get in conjunction with your Nephilim here can be overwhelming. Just make sure it’s suited up in its Magebane Armor and you’ll have nothing to fear. Flame Slash is about as hyper-efficient as can be found, while Chandra’s Outrage lets you occasionally just burn out the token player. Lightning Helix can gain you a serious life buffer and shut down utility dorks, but if you really need to sweep the field or take back some tempo, nothing beats the almighty Brightflame. Resolving this titanic sorcery can be a nightmare, but the end results, a crispy board and a stratospheric life total, are oh-so-worth-it.

Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Crib Swap
Gaze of Justice

Straight-up destruction is unfortunately black’s provenance, so we’ll have to deal with less direct methods. On the other hand, less direct often means more potential interactions, and thereby more fun; thanks, color pie! Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares are mass exiling, but with a side of massive ramp or life gain; often, you’ll find yourself using them more proactively, or to prevent opponents from regaining control of temporarily stolen monsters (more on that next week). Crib Swap and little brothers Afterlife, Pongify, and Beast Within trade a large, complex and hopefully more threatening board for a bunch of smaller, less threatening creatures. Oddly enough, the fact that there are still a bunch of warm bodies (or ghostly ectoplasmic remains) hanging around is usually good for us, as it keeps our reflection targets high. Lastly, Gaze of Justice is just pure, simple exiling- it can even be recast for extra purifying fun.

Chains of Air and Satin

The Ink-Treader does its best work with a battlefield full of creatures, but those selfsame creatures can be quite antithetical to our self-preservation. While hard removal is all well and good, once it resolves it usually puts the brakes our plans. Instead, some softer control cards can allow us to minimize the threat of opposing creatures while simultaneously keeping them in play.

Mind Games
Fire/Ice
Crippling Chill
Storage Matrix
Stoic Angel

Tap effects like these can go one of two ways- either oppressive effects that seek to keep all creatures locked down, like Stoic Angel, or more political cards that you can use to bribe opponents into attacking each other by providing strategic openings, like Fire/Ice. Either way, successful use of tapdown cards requires you to read your opponents well, and maybe even play a few mind games. It’s a brinkmanship game not for the faint of heart.

Spiritualize
Awe Strike
Inquisitor’s Snare
Fatespinner
Stonehorn Dignitary

Fog effects and lifegain is the other main prong of our soft-control strategy. Effects like Spiritualize can gain you a ton of life, and if you can tack on a cantrip, all the better. After a few successful games with the Ink-Treader expect your fellow players to respect it a bit more and target you more frequently- it’s at this point that you will begin to need these cards. Don’t be afraid to use them to mess with the game either- fogging the dominant player’s alpha strike unexpectedly can help the table take him down and put you in the driver’s seat.

Defending the Dream

Bounce spells can do some good work keeping stray Murders from ruining your day, but sometimes you can’t afford such a drastic tempo hit. Sometimes, more subtle strategies are required, something a bit less brute-force and a bit surgical. The perennial Valuetown favourite, blink, fits the bill perfectly, and spells that grant protection from various colors can be extremely flexible.

Momentary Blink
Otherworldly Journey
Vanish Into Memory
Ghostway
Deadeye Navigator

Momentary Blink is still the gold standard for this type of spell, flashing back out of the graveyard when your opponents least expect it and saving a key guy or your entire team from certain doom. Make sure you know which of your blink spells affect your guys and which affect all creatures, it can spell the difference between safety and the tragic destruction of your whole board position. Similarly, note whose control the creature returns under post-blink: after Avacyn Restored, many blink effects return them to play under your control even if you don’t own them. Deadeye Navigator, while less wide-reaching than the targeted blinks, is much stronger protection for your Nephilim, and abuses EtB effects like a champ to boot. If you haven’t tried this guy out, give him a shot, he slots into more decks than you might think.

Azorius Ploy
Indestructible Aura
Honorable Passage
Emerge Unscathed
Shelter

In a similar vein, damage prevention and instants that grant protection from various colors are often quite effective at nullifying the efforts of opponents seeking to abuse your living mirror. Of particular note here is Honorable Passage; if you have a player who enjoys Earthquake effects a little too much, this can cut him or her down to size in short order. Again, seeking out these sorts of effects that also cantrip adds some much-needed consistency to the deck.

To Dream the Impossible Dream

Approaching three thousand words, it’s about time to call it a day; clearly, the awesomeness that is the Ink-Treader Nephilim cannot be contained in a single article. We’ve covered most of the consistency-producing and defensive effects today- next time, we’ll get into the proactive strategies, how we actually end games, and I’ll provide that ever-sought-after list. BUT. This is where you, yes you, the reader, come in. As has already been demonstrated, there are a lot of ways to go with this general- which would you prefer to see? I’ve got an aggressive list, a controlling list, and a third, hybridized version, so let me know which you’re most interested in seeing and it’ll be included in the Ink-Treader Nephilim part 2.

Join me in two weeks as we wrap up our tour of Ravnica’s Fallen (for real this time). Until then, may your cup overflow with inspiration!

Gibson
@KaipaLin on Twitter and MTGSalvation

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