What three card combo, that excludes Living Death, lets you wrath the board and take all creatures from all graveyards and put them onto the battlefield under your control…
Thursdays are a big Magic day in my house. My son heads out to the local library to play Magic with his friends. They have a vibrant group that plays Standard, Modern, and some Legacy, while also getting in plenty of Two-Headed Giant and Commander games. They trade pretty freely and seem to be constantly bringing in new decks.
My friends arrive at my place just as my son’s group if wrapping up their final game at the library. My group tends to be far more casual, sticking to multiplayer formats. We don’t trade as much as the boys do, but some cards move from one collection to the next. Between Little Boys Thursday Magic and Big Boys Thursday Magic, there is a lot of Magic happening around my house.
Last Thursday was much like every other Thursday. My group has grown a lot lately. About a year ago there were 5 or 6 of us in the group total, we now regularly get 8 people showing up with four or five people in the group unable to make it. This has been great since it allows more variety every night. With eight people we can split into two tables of four and have two games going at once. My dining room looks like Thanksgiving with a packed dining room table and a foldout table from Costco squeezed into the dining room. The tables are close enough that everyone knows what’s going on at either table. Last Thursday we had one table playing a 60-card Chaos game and the other table was playing Commander. Good times all around.
As the evening progressed, several players had to leave, so the two tables merged into one 5 player table. Yet another benefit of having a large group for Magic! The five of us at the table included: Eric, Dan, John, Stephen, and me. The first few rounds of the game were not all that exciting, as Dan got a good start with his Knight deck but without Knight Exemplar just yet, while Stephen had played enough of his enchantment deck for us to know he was playing his enchantment deck. When John played his key card, the entire game changed. Perhaps it wasn’t obvious to everyone else at the table, but I had seen this deck before, and I knew big things were going to be happening shortly. What was John’s explosive play?
Admittedly, everyone who sees this, and hasn’t played with or against the Nephilim just sees a slightly worse version of Radiate, as Radiate can’t be Wrathed away. However, this Nephilim offers so much more than Radiate:
1. It is a permanent. This means you can use it again and again. I know it is four colors. I know it is harder to cast than Radiate. I know other players can try to take advantage of it. I also know that once it hits play, people don’t tend to Wrath the board. While Wrathing the board is probably the correct play, everyone who could Wrath the board invariably decides to get cute. Swords to Plowshares or Path of Peace removes all creatures from the game. The black player is looking at the Terror in his hand and can’t believe his luck that this Nephilim is every color but black! I had a Wrecking Ball in my hand and was giggling since I thought I was going to get to take out every creature and every land. I was pretty sure that everyone had some way to make the board crazy by targeting the Nephilim, so no one was going to be Wrathing any time soon.
2. Politics. When the Nephilim hits the board, everyone starts to think about what they can do with what is in their deck and the Nephilim. Everyone is thinking that this is going to be awesome. At some tables people are using the Nephilim as part of their negotiations, threatening others with what they will do using the Nephilim. This makes for fun gameplay. Of course, not enough people are thinking, “If John has this in his deck, he probably has an entire deck full of ideas around the Nephilim.” Radiate doesn’t offer any of this. You just play Radiate and do your thing. Ink-Treader Nephilim opens up the multiplayer politics so much better.
So just what did John have in his deck to abuse the Ink-Treader Nephilim? Soon after dropping the Nephilim, John played Panic. John had no intention of attacking, so Panic was a one mana red spell that said, “Draw a card for every creature in play.” I believe John drew 10 cards from the one mana spell.
I emailed John the next day and asked him to spill his guts about the contents of the deck. I have seen the deck do crazy fantastic things in two different games and wanted to be able to share that craziness with all of you! I also tweeted with Brionne Godby from Seedborn Muse’s group. He has had a nasty Nephilim deck for quite some time. The guys shared a number of various tricks they run with their decks.
Mana. First up is the mana base. With a five-color deck, the mana base is always critical. John’s strategy is to use a little bit of everything to avoid a situation where just creatures or just spells is a problem. John’s manabase runs fetchlands to grab the appropriate old school dual lands. He is also running Harrow and Rampant Growth to ramp up his lands and find the correct types. Birds of Paradise is a standard go to card for a reason, and John needs every color the Birds can provide.
In an effort to benefit from the proliferate theme that you’ll read more about below, John has also included a few storage lands from Mercadian Masques and Pentad Prism, as ways to abuse the “limitation” of counters on the cards. John explained that the storage lands haven’t worked quite as he hoped they would, but he hadn’t taken them out yet. I recommended trying Vivid Lands, since a Vivid with several counters is a good thing, if you aren’t looking to get a bunch of mana all in one turn. We’ll see if that is something that will work out.
Panic (or any cheap instant speed card drawing). This is less about Panic and more about instant speed card drawing. I know I mentioned this above already, but it needs to be mentioned again. There are other cards that target a creature that have a cantrip like Panic. Having several ways to draw numerous cards at instant speed is a wonderful thing. Ancestral Recall is really that good, and the Nephilim gives many of the cards in your deck the potential to draw even more cards. The instant speed of the card draw is most valuable when someone is trying to destroy your Nephilim. Terror on the stack, respond with any one mana cantrip (say Bandage for example). Resolve Bandage and all the copies of it made with Nephilim. Draw that many cards. There is a good chance you’ll find a solution to the Terror, whether it be a counterspell or perhaps another one mana cantrip like Aphotic Wisps that you can play before the Terror resolves.
Living Wish. This doesn’t benefit from the Nephilim, but it does allow him to search for a Magic bullet to deal with whatever the current problem on the board might be. John also has only three Ink-Treader Nephilim in the deck, so the Living Wishes can search up another Nephilim if one doesn’t appear from his library. I suspect Burning Wish and Cunning Wish are also in the deck, but John wasn’t going to give up all of his secrets.
Threaten. This one never saw play this game, but he has managed to pull it off in another game. John has a few sacrifice engines in his deck (see below), so I know in that game he sacrificed all the opposing creatures that were still alive after his combat phase. Insurrection may be one color, but Threaten with the Nephilim in play leaves you mana open to do other things while you control all the creatures.
Slave of Bolas. This is a card from Brionne’s deck. Why mess around with stealing all the guys, when you can steal all the guys and sacrifice them at the end of the turn? Spinal Embrace even adds lifegain!
Heat Shimmer. This is just freaking brilliant, and outright nasty. You double up on all the creatures that you are going to steal later in the turn. Using your cantrip cards just got twice as good as well.
Natural Affinity and Threaten (or any other card that targets the Nephilim). This is just outrageous and adds insult to injury. Natural Affinity makes pretty much anything you are doing with Ink-Treader Nephilim better, since it now includes lands. While getting everyone’s 2/2 lands is a boon for your attack phase the real benefit is the mana now available to you. The cost of playing Natural Affinity and Threaten that turn are usually covered by all the land you just took control of for the turn. This lets John play more dudes that he won’t lose at the end of his turn, or play other, more dastardly cards to spin off Nephilim. If you needed another reason not to just automatically play every land you draw, this is certainly something to keep in mind.
Rite of Replication. Brionne provided many options for Nephilim decks, but this just straight up rocks! I know that using this card without the kicker would be just fine. You are going to get a copy of the Nephilim, as well as a copy of every creature on the board, but… come on! Nine mana gets you 5 copies of every creature on the board! I know 12 mana is a lot and you would be wide open to a Wrath effect, but wouldn’t Heat Shimmer, followed by a kicked Rite of Replication be amazing!
Okay, I’m back from Magical Christmas land. A kicked Rite is still awesome!
Goblin Bombardment (sacrifice engines). This is just one of the sac outlets in his deck that make sure you don’t get your creatures or lands back when he takes them. Bombardment can usually mean game over for at least one of the players in the game. The joy of this sacrifice outlet is that there is no tapping or mana cost required. It works at instant speed and can be used again and again. It should also be mentioned that enchantments are currently the safest permanents on the board in our metagame. While this is beginning to change, the choice of an enchantment over another creature or an artifact is something that may not be appreciated if you don’t know the metagame John is playing in.
All of these options pale in comparison to what happened in the game. John did not have Natural Affinity or Threaten in hand, but did have something else that would work even better. He started the turn by playing Liliana Vess. I expected that he would use the tutor ability to find a card that he could use with the Nephilim in play, but John had other plans. Once it was clear no one was going to counter the planeswalker, John played Spread the Sickness, targeting the Nephilim. All of the creatures died, including the Nephilim, which I thought was a great reset for the game. I figured he would tutor for another Nephilim and start the madness all over again. It was at this point that I realized the proliferate portion of Spread the Sickness also went off about 12 times, putting another 12 counters on Liliana. Her ultimate ability only costs 8. John used the ultimate ability and took all the creatures in all graveyards.
I play Magic for moments like that. It was a dramatic interaction between the cards that produced a moment worthy of applause, or at least an envious “Sick!” Perhaps if I would have had a chance at winning that game, I might have been less enamored with the play, but I don’t think so. When someone’s deck just sees all the pieces fall into place like that and completely change the entire balance of a game, it is something to be admired. I’m looking forward to seeing the changes John makes to the deck in the future, and how he’ll continue to pile up wins with it.
I want to thank John and Brionne for being so open with their decks. Both of these guys are still playing these decks, and I’ve opened up a number of their cards to view by all of you and everyone in their respective play groups. I have full confidence, they will each continue to come up with interesting and spectacular plays.
Finally, it should be said that John did not win that game. Stephen had an enchantment lock on the board that John’s deck had no way to beat. Stephen eventually overwhelmed him with Pegasus tokens from a Sacred Mesa. I’ll save that deck for another week!
 As Magic groups get older, real life tends to get in the way more and more often. When I started playing before I was married, almost everyone in the group showed up every week. Now with wives and more demanding jobs, weekly attendance is almost impossible for anyone. It used to be that if you wanted four or five people to play a game of multiplayer, you needed four or five people in your group. Now, if I want four or five people, I need to invite six or seven and plan it out several days ahead.
 I won’t lie: I prefer the dining room chairs to the foldout chairs. I’ll take comfortable over tiny every time.
 The Nephilim only lets you take out all the other creatures, not the lands. It doesn’t copy for every possible target, just every possible creature. I discovered this after the game, so I didn’t get egg on my face until… just… now…
 I strongly recommend looking at each of the Wisps from Shadowmoor. The abilities are not spectacular but they are useful, and all of them let you draw a card for a single colored mana. Just great with the Nephilim and a board of creatures in play.