This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Community Contribution

By GIBSON aka KaipaLin
The Nephilim. A cycle of four-colored creatures that are in many senses quite awkward, they present an intriguing challenge to the potential Commander deck builder. They appeared in the Ravnica block, the only multicolor cards wholly outside of the two-color guild structure on which the entire block was based. Awkward. They’re each four colors, which makes defining their scope and theme in terms of the color pie super awkward. Why not just play five colors, you might ask? (We’ll get to that in a moment.) And finally, despite representing important, powerful, and most importantly unique creatures, they are not in fact legendary. Totes awk.

But lets get this straight right away: the Nephilim are awesome. They are the only four-colored cards in all of Magic, and they really should be legendary (even MaRo himself has said he would love to errata them). Given that they have some pretty nifty and unique abilities, they beg to be played in this splashiest of formats. Let me emphasize again that most of these creatures do really cool things, things that no other commander does. So I, and perhaps you, want to play them. There’s a lot of possibility there.

Since Commander is a generally casual format, the rules can be bent a little provided your group is okay with it. This is the big caveat: the people you’re playing with MUST be okay with you playing a non-standard general, and if they’re not, they are totally within their rights to ask you to play something else. So keep that in mind if you play a Nephilim, and be ready with another deck just in case. It helps if you can explain why you want to use the Nephilim as a general, because “Guys it’s totally AWESOME, it’s a four-color dude!” might not cut it for everyone.

Rather, you might want to have a theme, a guiding principle that sums up what your deck is about and why its mechanical core was designed the way it is. For the Nephilim, a fairly easy starting point presents itself in the one color each creature lacks. How do the other colors manifest themselves in a way that is totally anathema to the fifth color? Exploring that aspect lets the deck builder mold the theme around what works well for the general mechanically, which can satisfy the group and the deck builder both. Actually, that’s not a bad rule of thumb for deck construction in general. With that in mind, let’s turn to the first Nephilim in line, the Yore-Tiller Nephilim.

For the Yore-Tiller Nephilim, green is anathema. It is philosophically and thematically defined by its rejection of the green mindset and exclusion of green mana. Where green is most focused on the current moment, this Nephilim is all about history; even Ravnica’s ten-thousand year domination by the guilds is only a chapter in the story the Yore-Tiller has witnessed. More importantly, the Yore-Tiller Nephilim cares about that history and how it leads into the future, because it, as a representative of the non-green, wants to change things. Rather than allowing things to progress naturally, flowing down some placid evolutionary stream, the Yore-Tiller wants to mold the future toward its own ends with its own hands… err, crab-clawed stony pseudopods.

In an actual game, then, the Yore-Tiller deck wants to do things that avoid the natural flow of the game. Things like curving out, making land drops, and playing only the cards in your own deck don’t sit well with the Yore-Tiller. Fortunately, this predilection is mechanically represented in its ability to reanimate creatures from your graveyard directly into combat. And what better way to emphasize this pseudo-haste with a side of surprise than some excellent saboteur effects!

Saboteurs and Thieves

Balefire Dragon
Dragon Mage
Fiend of the Shadows
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Scion of Darkness
Mindleech Mass
Wrexial, the Risen Deep
Sphinx Ambassador
Thalakos Deceiver

For those of you who noticed something of theme among the saboteur effects of the last six creatures, bravo. Stealing opponents’ cards for your own nefarious purposes is very much in line with the Yore-Tiller’s theme. Mindleech Mass and the gang, along with friends like Havengul Lich let you ignore silly restrictions like only playing the one hundred cards in your own deck, and give you incredible utility over the course of a game. Especially when reanimated, the saboteur effects give you near instantaneous card advantage, since nearly all of them (sorry, Ink-Eyes) have some form of evasion ensuring their trigger will go off as soon as they come out swinging.

These fine dudes and ladies are especially potent in a post-wrath world, a common state in games of Commander. Unopposed, most any of these beasties can run away with a game. Depending on your environment, certain theives play better than others. For instance, in a spell heavy meta Wrexial and Chancellor of the Spires play exceptionally well, while Fiend of the Shadows (whee new cards) won’t serve you nearly as well in a mostly-green game.

Enter the Fray

Speaking of card advantage and utility, it’s time to look at that most favored of Commander categories: the enter-the-battlefield creatures. Few decks are complete without a bevy of triggered dudes and ladies and bizarre tentacled monstrosities to sit awkwardly on the battlefield once their jobs are done (and occasionally take a swipe at an opponent). In a reanimator deck, you obviously get to re-buy these effects through the graveyard, so creatures that sacrifice themselves, such as the evoke elementals, are exceptionally well suited in the role. For the most part, your EtB creatures will be serving as point removal and general utility; some other guys will show up in their specific capacities in later groupings.

Ingot Chewer
Angel of Despair
Magister Sphinx

I like Magister Sphinx here thematically, in that it totally messes with the typical normal progression of games. Straight up telling someone (or several someones) “no, your life total this game is going to be 10” is exactly what the non-green pacman-wedge wants to do. However, when it comes to actually playing with two-punch Steve, here, I find the experience less than rewarding. Chancellor of the Spires could be a different option, if you really want to keep up the Sphinx count; it’s on theme and hates on extra-turn cards, what could be better!

EtB creatures are the most flexible group in the whole deck, so if you don’t enjoy the cards here or elsewhere in the list, swap them out! As the flex category, this section lends itself most to solving the problems presented by the local environment or representing your own creative sense. Enchantment decks going to town? Perhaps a War Priest of Thune and Monk Realist need to make their way into the deck. Really like Nekrataal effects? Big Game Hunter, Bone Shredder, and the eponymous assassin can all join the party. Extra style points to the person who runs a Sphinx theme here.

Into the Grave

With the exception of the evoke elementals and the cycle-tastic Scion of Darkness, getting your creatures into your graveyard requires some outside help. Where some reanimator decks go the route of dredge and friends, we are playing blue, and thus can incorporate some card advantage into our monster-discarding. The first group of cards is the looting effects, especially potent as they are essentially all-upside for us, drawing cards and putting the soon-to-be-living into our graveyard. The second and much smaller set of effects allow us to drop creatures from the hand or the battlefield into the graveyard.

Faithless Looting
Frantic Search
Careful Consideration
Forbidden Alchemy

Jace’s Archivist
Dragon Mage

Barrin, Master Wizard
Cauldron Dance
Sneak Attack
Buried Alive

The wheel/windfall effects in the first category also help disrupt the carefully laid plans of that annoying hand-sculpting UB player. Barrin can help clear away potential blockers while simultaneously providing more Yore-Tiller targets, and Sneak Attack is powerful enough as its own separate and thoroughly awesome engine. It’s expensive to buy in the real, I know, but I’m still shocked by how infrequently I see it played, considering how powerful it is. Malfegor sits at an interesting place in this deck. He does force you to discard your hand, but if there was even one or two monsters in it, the exchange is typically worth it. The ground-clearing effect allows Yore-Tiller to get in safely once or twice, and from there you’re golden.

And back out again

Now that we have plenty of ways to get our big monsters into the graveyard, we could use more ways to get them onto the field. Yore-Tiller is obviously the favored route, but it won’t always be available and often throwing a 2/2 into the fray isn’t a winning prospect.

Havengul Lich
Unburial Rites
Living Death
Animate Dead
Marshal’s Anthem

Havengul Lich, as mentioned before, is absolute value town with the Evoke suite, and can also reanimate larger things given enough mana. Each of the others offers its own twist on cheating dudes into play, some down the value aisle, and some that just bust games wide open. As a side note, Unburial Rites, Animate Dead, and Necromancy are all fairly painless to toss with the discard effects, as flashback and Sun Titan help mitigate their poor, pitiful abandonment.

One notable absence here isDebtor’s Knell. While the enchantment is very, very strong, in my experience it rarely survives a swing around the table, and thus is just a very expensive waste of a turn. On the infrequent occasions it does survive, the hate it draws overpowers the benefit it gives my board position. In its place I prefer to run Marshal’s Anthem, which is typically more explosive, limited only by the amount of white mana you have available, and garners much less hate. Since much of the rest of the deck is playing the repetitious long game and focusing on potential, this is one slot where I’m very happy to give the deck a haymaker and focus on the power end of the spectrum.

Surviving combat

The reality is that Wizards did a reasonable job designing the Yore-Tiller Nephilim, and it is sadly balanced. Though its reanimation is extremely powerful, it is in the end just a 2/2 for four mana that has to roll into combat in order to use its ability. In order to get the most out of that ability, then, we need a set of tools to ensure that it can make it into the red zone and come out alive on the other side.

Nim Deathmantle
Darksteel Plate
Whispersilk Cloak
Gustcloak Savior

Stoneforge Mystic
Godo, Bandit Warlord

Whispersilk Cloak lets the Yore-Tiller ignore blockers and does equally well on a big saboteur creature. Shroud is a godsend for fragile generals like this, and the necessity of combat makes the Cloak’s unblockability slightly more useful to me than the haste granted by various pairs of boots. Gustcloak Savior is the king of take-backs, whoops-I-guess-I’m-not-attacking plays and allows Tiller to bring back small utility creatures without worrying about them getting immediately chumped off the board. Finishing off the cloaking category, Stonecloaker offers a last-ditch way to rescue your Nephilim from a combat gone wrong. It also has great utility, hating on graveyards and re-buying all the various EtB dudes. Apparently nephilim like cloaks. Who knew?

Nim Deathmantle serves double duty here by making the Yore-Tiller hard to block and saving various dudes that might get killed via combat trick or even just mistaken attacking. Wonder offers similar evasion and helps our team make a more reliable alpha strike, while also loving to be discarded to your various looter effects.

Deathrender is an odd duck here, in that it doesn’t actually protect your general except via the generic +2/+2 pump. It does, however, threaten to drop things so large and hard to deal with that most opponents think twice before trading with you. Incidentally, it forms a huge value chain of creatures with Sneak Attack, provided you have some monsters in hand.

Resets, Utility, Graveyard Hate

Some strong reset cards, utility and a graveyard hate package that doubles as a card advantage engine round out the deck.

Keldon Firebombers
Divine Reckoning

Waves of Aggression
Rush of Knowledge
Wayfarer’s Bauble

Sun Titan
Auriok Salvagers
Scrabbling Claws
Phyrexian Furnace
Nihil Spellbomb

The potential land-destruction effects here allow us to press our advantage; once we’ve got a decent graveyard and a protected Yore-Tiller, Catastrophe and Keldon Firebombers can really lock away the game. In addition, they’re on theme, completely distorting the flow of a game. We play a number of mana-rocks, all recurrable via Sun Titan, which can dampen the impact on us and which also help generate an earlier Nephilim. A turn 3 Mindleech Mass swinging in can make a very interesting game indeed.

While the graveyard hate bauble package might seem counterintuitive at first glance, there are relatively few cards that we use to play out of other players’ graveyards. Our focus is more on abusing our own graveyard, and this package lets us leverage spells like Living Death more effectively while denying other ‘yard-based decks their strategy. Plus it draws cards, and who doesn’t love drawing cards?

Last but not least, we add a mana base and some mana rocks; the lands I use are a modified version of my painstakingly-gathered five-color base. Blue and black, the center colors of the pac-wedge, are more heavily represented, and white has the only color-focused card in Marshall’s Anthem. I know that not everyone can afford spending lots of money on lands, but rest assured, a budget mana base can work well here. The key is to add the right amount of lands to play the cards that run the deck’s engines: the looting, reanimation, and protection equipment, rather than the often absurd and color-intensive costs of the big monsters themselves.

The final decklist looks something like this:

Tilling the Past- Yore-Tiller Nephilim EDH

GeneralYore-Tiller Nephilim (Duh)

Creatures (28)
1x Ingot Chewer
1x Mulldrifter
1x Shriekmaw
1x Wispmare
1x Stonecloaker
1x Angel of Despair
1x Malfegor
1x Magister Sphinx
1x Sun Titan
1x Stoneforge Mystic
1x Godo, Bandit Warlord
1x Mindleech Mass
1x Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
1x Scion of Darkness
1x Thalakos Deceiver
1x Sphinx Ambassador
1x Wrexial, the Risen Deep
1x Dragon Mage
1x Balefire Dragon
1x Fiend of the Night
1x Havengul Lich
1x Barrin, Master Wizard
1x Jace’s Archivist
1x Anger
1x Wonder
1x Auriok Salvagers
1x Gustcloak Savior
1x Keldon Firebombers

Enchantments (4)
1x Sneak Attack
1x Animate Dead
1x Necromancy
1x Marshal’s Anthem

Artifacts (14)
1x Azorius Signet
1x Boros Signet
1x Dimir Signet
1x Izzet Signet
1x Orzhov Signet
1x Sol Ring
1x Wayfarer’s Bauble
1x Nihil Spellbomb
1x Scrabbling Claws
1x Phyrexian Furnace
1x Darksteel Plate
1x Deathrender
1x Nim Deathmantle
1x Whispersilk Cloak

Sorcery (11)
1x Reanimate
1x Living Death
1x Unburial Rites
1x Buried Alive
1x Breakthrough
1x Faithless Looting
1x Windfall
1x Rush of Knowledge
1x Catastrophe
1x Divine Reckoning
1x Waves of Aggression

Instants (5)
1x Careful Consideration
1x Catalog
1x Cauldron Dance
1x Forbidden Alchemy
1x Frantic Search

Lands (37)
4x Plains
4x Island
4x Swamp
3x Mountain
1x Blood Crypt
1x Godless Shrine
1x Hallowed Fountain
1x Sacred Foundry
1x Steam Vents
1x Watery Grave
1x Cascade Bluffs
1x Fetid Heath
1x Graven Cairns
1x Mystic Gate
1x Sunken Ruins
1x Dragonskull Summit
1x Drowned Catacomb
1x Glacial Fortress
1x Isolated Chapel
1x Sulfur Falls
1x Arid Mesa
1x Evolving Wilds
1x Marsh Flats
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Command Tower

I’m quite happy with the way this list has turned out. In some proxy games it has proved to be reasonably competitive and a lot of fun. It lends itself to rapid, massive board swings and some of the crazy plays the format is known for. I hope you enjoy the list and consider trying out a version of it yourself!

Hopefully you’ll join me soon, when I talk tokens with the repeatable Avenger of Zendikar, the Dune-Brood Nephilim. Until then, may you enjoy pushing the envelope!

Gibson Haynes
@KaipaLin on Twitter and MTGSalvation

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