The 99: The King is Dead
Maybe it’s just me but lately I have noticed a huge surge in popularity of Nekusar, the Mindrazer. It seems as though the last few times I have gone out to play a game of Commander I have either faced a Nekusar deck or encountered someone in the process of building one. Having snapped up all 5 of the Commander 2013 decks as soon as they hit shelves, I have also been working on my own take on Nekusar. What makes the zombie king so popular? For one, he is a rather open ended general to build around. While the most obvious implication is to stack draw triggers like Howling Mine and make your opponents draw themselves to death, I believe that you could make a very strong deck on the simple merit of drawing 2 cards a turn. Less obvious is the Zombie and/or Wizard tribal theme which I have yet to encounter but the possibility remains. The comment I’ve heard the most about Nekusar and the reason I think he is so highly played is that the deck is just incredibly fun to pilot, particularly for Control oriented players.
In my experience, the key to a successful Nekusar build is to balance your selection of draw effects and control elements. Leaning too much on the symmetrical draw effects gives your opponent a rather hefty advantage if they can manage to keep Nekusar off the field and not get pinged for every card they draw. Given a proper board state however, Nekusar can finish a whole table of opponents with a Wheel of Fortune. So how do we negate all the card advantage we’re giving our opponent? The route I’ve chosen for my Nekusar deck focuses around Control Magic effects to steal whatever goodies my opponent manages to play. Even if they manage to play something and not have it countered or killed, I’ll take it from them before too long. For a while I was also using cards like Clone to push this theme further but I eventually dropped them. Clones have no effect on an empty board and even if I can clone my opponent’s stuff, I haven’t removed their threat in the same way that Control Magic would.
As I mentioned before, going all in on draw effects won’t necessarily work out in your favor if your opponent can destroy the permanents that punish their card draw. If they can get rid of Nekusar/ Underworld Dreams / Fate Unraveler / Spiteful Visions / etc. then there’s really nothing punishing them for getting extra cards. To this end, I suggest playing a strong suite of your own threats. Master of Feast is becoming a popular choice since the release of Journey into Nyx. I also recommend packing creatures and effects that demand sacrifices of your opponent’s creatures like Sheoldred, Whispering One, Desecration Demon and Thraximundar.
What other ways can we drain the opponent of resources? Milling is not necessarily the strongest option for Commander but I don’t mind leaning on a few effects that exile cards from the hand or library. Nightveil Specter and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver are the ones I chose and I don’t know if I really want to go deeper on that theme… or get rid of it entirely. I was playing Oona,Queen of the Fae for some time but she proved to be too mana intensive and more often was nothing more than an overcosted 5/5 flyer.
I have had a few debates with people about the inclusion of Notion Thief in Nekusar. Personally, I think the Thief is working against your overall goal of making your opponents draw themselves to death. I believe Notion Thief would be a solid inclusion if you were trying to build some kind of combo deck that really needed to dig for pieces. Otherwise, I don’t think it belongs in the deck. Since all the draw effects we’re playing are symmetrical, I generally end up with more cards than I can hold by the middle of the game.Anyway, on to the deck!
Commander:Nekusar, the Mindrazer
The Good: Nekusar works much like a snowball and once we have enough Underworld Dreams-esque effects in play, it only takes one well timed Wheel of fortune to simultaneously kill everyone else at the table.
The Bad: sometimes your opponents can make enough use of extra cards we give them to set up their combo or turn out a big threat fast enough to bring the zombie king down. Even though I have included them in my list, I am also a little wary of Duskmantle Seer and especially Spiteful Visions. The latter can very easily turn into a suicide play but I can’t bring myself to remove it from the list and from what I’ve seen of other people’s Nekusar lists, neither can they.
Key Cards: Does it make everyone draw extra cards? Then it belongs in here. Jace’s Archivist is probably my favorite of these since it can end games with surprising swiftness if left unanswered. Sire of Insanity is another great inclusion because it does such a good job of locking our opponents out of their answers. Archmage Ascension is something I’m always happy to draw, whether it’s in my opening hand or late in the game since it works so well with Nekusar. Exquisite Blood is kind of an oddball choice but it has kept me alive through more games than I care to count. Once the table turns on you, it’s nice to be able to borrow some life from your opponents. Grafted Exoskeleton is something I borrowed from another Nekusar list I played against. When set up correctly, it is quite the beating.
Philosophy: Nekusar is a blast to play simply because he punishes people for their favorite part of the game: drawing cards. Grixis Control is also a very deep archetype with lots of avenues to explore and even if we don’t care to go down the “draw yourself to death” route, Nekusar can very easily support a straight-up control build.
So is this deck the definitive Nekusar? Far from it. I realized as I was perusing this list for my write up that there is a glaring lack of Sol Ring and I have recently been doing my best to include more of the Signets in my decks. The Izzet and Dimir Signets will have to be shoved in here somehow. Churning out a fast Nekusar is paramount to the deck’s success and I highly recommend that you do everything you can to bring the King out on turn 4 or (with some kind of amazing opening hand) earlier. Speaking of opening hands, this is one of the few decks which I aggressively mulligan. I need to know that Nekusar is going to come down on time so I will happily mulligan to a 4 land hand. I also think it’s important to play some cheap creatures so you have blockers against aggro strategies or fast starts. Master of the Feast is my main example here but I also really like Kami of the Crescent Moon as he chumps some creatures and works with the overall strategy we are trying to build around.
If I were looking to make cuts, it would probably be Discard spells first, quickly followed by Duskmantle Seer. As I mentioned above, this guy fits the bill nicely enough but every upkeep suddenly becomes a mantra of “please don’t be Bolas, please don’t be Bolas”. The last thing you want to do is take 8 to the face before your turn has even begun. I would also be interested in seeing this list lose a bunch of the Control spells and go for something more aggro, just for a change of pace. Grixis has some fun beaters like Blood Tyrant which I wouldn’t mind sleeving up, especially in a multiplayer game. Part of the issue with Nekusar being wholly a Control deck is that you tap out most turns to get the draw engines online and in the early game where a counter spell can make all the difference, you’re probably unable to muster the mana for a rebuttal.
In other news, the new set Conspiracy is almost upon us and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on some of the cards being printed for it. Next month’s article will be something along the lines of a set review as well as a brew with the new legends. As always, I hope to see all of you down at Nu Games on Thursday nights as 6 for Commander!