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Budget(ish) Commander: Nicol Bolas, Artifact Supervillains


Bolas Has Gathered Some "Friends"!

Nicol Bolas is kinda a big deal. Love him or hate him, this Elder Dragon has been the Big Bad in Magic's storyline for over a decade. To celebrate his long reign in the storyline and (hopefully) equally long retirement, I decided to write not just one, but two articles on ol' Bolas. Last week he was commanding a Budget Warped Devotion Deck, a grindy Discard + Bounce Control deck looking to empty our opponents' hands, bounce their remaining permanents, and make them discard those cards as well.

This week is going to be very different. We're covering Bolas Superfriends.

Budget(ish) Commander?

My goal on Budget Commander is to show you how to build a deck at various price points, with the cheapest usually being anywhere between $20 and $40, and then upgrading from there. That means each individual card has to be under $3 or else there's no way I can get the overall deck down that low. However, making a Superfriends deck is simply impossible. Planeswalkers are the most popular card type in the entire game and are the most sought-after cards by casuals and collectors regardless of the card's power level. Even the absolute worst planeswalker ever printed, Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded, is still $2 USD, despite being reprinted(!), solely because of his card type, whereas other garbage mythics like Archangel's Light are easily found under a buck. Actual good planeswalkers and planeswalker support cards, like Teferi, Temporal Archmage and Doubling Season, fetch much higher prices. So I just can't get a decent Superfriends list down to 40ish dollars like I usually do with these articles.

However, I'm still going to go ahead and give Superfriends my usual Budget Commander treatment. I'm doing a full breakdown of the archetype, hundreds of card options for all aspects of the deckbuilding process, yadayada. And I'll still give multiple versions of the deck list, but it will be a higher budget range than my usual.

Honestly, the reason why I'm writing this article in the first place is that I'm building a paper version of this for myself! I figured what better way to come up with a list that I want to buy than going through the process of researching and writing a full article on it!

Please let me know what you think of this higher budget article. I currently don't plan to do this often, but if the feedback is positive then I may consider doing more higher-budget articles in the future!

 

Atraxa Is Dumb And Overrated
(not really but I wanted a clickbaity header)

 

Any time the Superfriends archetype is mentioned in Commander, one commander option dominates the discussion: Atraxa, Praetors' Voice

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Atraxa, Praetors' Voice is the single most popular commander in the entire format according to EDHREC. She is the defacto Superfriends commander, dwarfing any alternatives.

Look, I understand why people (wrongly) assume she's far and way the best Superfriends commander ever printed. It's obvious why people flock to her:

  • She's one of the only commander option that directly benefits planeswalkers by adding extra loyalty counters (proliferate)
  • She's a great defender of planeswalkers, being a decent 4/4 flying body that can handle bigger threats thanks to deathtouch
  • A 4/4 flying lifelink deathtouch that also proliferates at end of turn for no mana cost is absurd value at just 4cmc
  • She gives access to four out of five colors, allowing you to run the majority of planeswalkers but more importantly most of the best support cards, like Oath of Teferi, Primevals' Glorious Rebirth, and the most iconic of them all, Doubling Season
  • She's an Angel! People love Angels! And she has pretty art!

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So yeah, I understand why Atraxa, Praetors' Voice is the defacto Superfriends commander for most players. I get it. And I won't deny that a commander that was literally designed to be THE GREATEST SUPERFRIENDS COMMANDER EVARRR happens to be good at her job. But hoo boy is she overrated! Because, dear readers, for all her obvious perks, Atraxa lacks one key attribute that really pushes Superfriends over the edge:

Atraxa doesn't give you access to Red cards.

 

Why You Should Play Bolas Superfriends

Grixis Superfriends gives you access to Red. Atraxa advocates will say that not having Red isn't a big deal, but even the most devoted Atraxa player will feel a pang of jealousy when War of the Spark was released and this bad boy was revealed:

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Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God is the ultimate Superfriends planeswalker. His static makes him more and more powerful the more planeswalkers are on the battlefield. His +1 and -3 abilities are always relevant. His -8 is one of the strongest planeswalker ultimates ever printed, and -- gosh, wouldn't you know it -- you can immediately use it if you had Doubling Season on the battlefield! It's the perfect addition to Atraxa Superfriends, and yet that single Red mana symbol stops her from running it! Oh no! How does that make you feel, Atraxa players? Do you weep? Good. Your tears sustain me.

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God is only the latest amazing Red card for Superfriends decks that poor Atraxa cannot play. But New Nicol isn't the only sweet Red card that Atraxa misses out on -- nor is he even the best one!

Here are some of the sweet Red planeswalkers Grixis gets to play that dumb Atraxa can't:

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Those are just the Red planeswalkers we get in Grixis. But that's just the tip of the iceberg of what Red brings to Superfriends. You see, Red actually has access to the most powerful cards a Superfriends deck can ever run. The coveted Atraxa staples like Oath of Teferi and even Doubling Season pale in comparison to what Red Superfriends is capable of. These cards aren't for the faint of heart, but when has real power ever been attainable by the weak-willed? Friends, this is what true power looks like. Scroll down if you dare!

 

 

 

 

 

Can you guess what they are?

 

 

 

 

 

Long-term Budget Commander readers probably know what's coming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I may be a tad predictable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yup, it's MLD. But not just MLD!

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I'm not sorry.

 

Allow me just a few sentences to sell you on these three cards in Superfriends: Obliterate, Jokulhaups, and Decree of Annihilation. These cards clear the board of all artifacts, creatures, and lands. But they don't affect two permanent types: enchantments ... and planeswalkers! Forget durdling with extra value cards like Oath of Teferi or giggling behind a Moat. That's child's play. Instead, put a scary planeswalker on the battlefield like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Obliterate the board. Your opponents have no creatures to attack your planeswalkers and have no mana to cast anything to stop you. You win. It's that simple.

Also, what's more flavorful for a Nicol Bolas deck than sucking the spark of joy out from your opponents?

Obviously, these cards come with a disclaimer: some playgroups frown upon mass land destruction. You should always check with your playgroup to make sure they're okay with any cards/deck you're running as a general rule of thumb. Generally speaking, any playgroup that is okay with infinite combos should be fine with these cards; casting any of these cards with a game-winning planeswalker on the battlefield accomplishes the exact same thing as an infinite combo, even if it takes a couple extra turns to actually win the game (assuming your opponents don't immediately scoop). Even if you choose not to run MLD, however, I want to make this clear: Grixis Superfriends is still very powerful without any MLD! I'll show you how to make a kickass Superfriends deck without harming a single land. All I'm saying is that the option is there.

"Alright, Tomer, you've sold me on Red's merits in Superfriends. But instead of going Grixis Superfriends, why not just go 5C Superfriends instead? That way you get those juicy Red cards but still have access to all those excellent White and Green cards. Just throw Jodah, Archmage Eternal or Ramos, Dragon Engine as your commander and you're set. It's a win-win, right?"

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Well, yes and no. It's true that 5C Superfriends gives you the ultimate freedom to craft your deck exactly how you want it. Going 5C is a perfectly valid option, and personally, I'm much more interested in playing a 5C Superfriends list than an Atraxa one.

However, for this particular article, I want to cover an Artifact Superfriends deck, and I don't think our deck gains much by going 5C. I mean yeah, you have access to literally all the cards in the format so in that sense it does help what we want to do, but none of the 5C commander options benefit Artifacts or Superfriends and while access to Green (aka Doubling Season) is nice, there's not a lot of Green cards that I'd be interested in for this type of deck. Blasphemy, I know.

"Ah, but Tomer, if you're looking to build an Artifact Superfriends deck and don't care about Green, why don't you play Breya, Etherium Shaper? She's the best Artifact commander and she gives you access to all those White cards you've been raving about! And you get to play with Smothering Tithe, your favorite White card, which happens to be one of the best Artifact cards too! So, why not?"

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Honestly? If you're looking for the very best Artifact Superfriends deck purely from a power perspective, then there's simply no better option than Breya, Etherium Shaper as your commander. She gives you access to White, which means you snag a lot of great Superfriend support cards (Oath of Teferi) and Artifact support cards (Smothering Tithe). And Breya herself has amazing Artifact synergies and can protect your planeswalkers like a champ while also doubling as a combo finisher in the deck. She does it all, really. But that's the problem with Breya: no other Artifact commander can really compare to her, power-wise. She's one of the strongest Artifact commanders on her own and she gives access to all four of the Artifact support colors. She's too good.

Actually, that's the only reason why you wouldn't pick Breya, Etherium Shaper from a power perspective: she often makes you archenemy because people know how good she is. If the rest of the table is banding together and spending their resources to pre-emptively stop you from playing the game for fear of what you could do if left alone, then you're actually better off playing a weaker commander option if that means you aren't being automatically hated out of the game.

But the main reason I decided to write an article about Bolas as the commander and not Breya has nothing to do with power. I just wanted to make a Bolas Superfriends deck. I like the flavor of it, and I like that our commander, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, is a planeswalker himself. I also think that Breya, like Atraxa, is way overdone (she's the third most popular commander of all time) and I'm such a goddamn hipster that I enjoy playing decks less if I see everyone else playing it too. Sometimes these articles are more about what I want to talk about rather than what I think will get the most clicks. So that's that.

That's not to say that Nicol Bolas, the Ravager brings nothing to the table, however. Our commander is a planeswalker, which means he benefits from all our Superfriends support cards in a way that Breya/Atraxa cannot: we can activate him an extra time with The Chain Veil, he gets extra loyalty counters when we proliferate with Inexorable Tide, and he's a bonafide finisher when we resolve Obliterate. So, uh, yeah, he's kinda great.

If I see interest for another Budget Superfriends article featuring Atraxa, Breya, Ramos, or whatever else, I'd be down to do it. But for now, dear readers, we're doing Bolas Artifact Super "Friends"!

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You might like the deck if ...

  • You want a flavorful Bolas deck that feels like the Avengers but *pinky out* eeeeevil 
  • You like having convoluted turns with tons of different options available
  • You want to play a unique version of Superfriends that isn't generic Atraxa or 5C
  • You want to play a unique version of Artifacts that isn't generic Breya
  • You want to combine Artifacts and Superfriends together in a sweet cohesive deck
  • You like the fact that, if you want to, nobody is saying you have to but if you want to ... you can easily win the game with Obliterate

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You'd prefer a standard Atraxa Superfriends deck instead
  • You want to play an aggressive deck
  • You want to play a linear deck
  • You prefer simple boards with not a lot of decision making
  • You play slow and your opponents will resent you for taking so long ticking up and down all your planeswalkers
  • You take it personally when Rob attacks your planeswalkers when clearly Karen is the biggest threat oh my god she's setting up her combo Rob what are you doing bro I'm not the threat you're handing her the game god I hate everything

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Artifact Superfriends

First, let's cover the heart of our Artifact Superfriends deck: the planeswalkers that care about artifacts! All of these planeswalkers have multiple uses for our deck, but for the sake of classification, I'll try and put them into loose categories based on what they're best at doing for our deck. For example, both Dack Fayden and Daretti, Scrap Savant are excellent looters and we'll use their + abilities often, but we're more interested in using their -2 abilities to steal opposing Sol Rings and turn our 1/1 Servo token into a Contagion Engine.

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Other Sweet Superfriends

The 15 artifact planeswalkers I listed are just 15 of 86 total planeswalkers available to us. There's still a lot of superb options we can run. Nicol Bolas obviously dominates the conversation here with three no-brainer inclusions: Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver is the only one I'd leave out, as is usually the case with Planeswalker Deck cards.

One of my all-time favorite planeswalker for this deck -- and any Dimir deck really -- has to be Ashiok, Dream Render. This unassuming uncommon planeswalker is low-key one of the best planeswalkers in the Commander format. Denying your opponents the ability to search their library, turning off huge chunks of their deck from Rampant Growth, Demonic Tutor, and even Windswept Heath, is crippling. And on top of that you can repeatably exile all their graveyards, denying any recursion! AT JUST 3CMC! WHAT!

Again, I'll try to loosely categorize the planeswalkers based on what their best feature is in our deck. I'm only selecting planeswalkers that I feel match what this particular flavor of Artifact Superfriends wants to be doing, so I'll be leaving out some great planeswalkers that don't fit here. For example, we're going to be running very few creatures, so Liliana, Dreadhorde General, while a great planeswalker, isn't great here.

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Superfriends Support Cards

Here's a harsh truth about planeswalkers in Commander: all of them pretty much suck by themselves. Your opponents are always, always going to default to attacking/killing them if able, and that means you have to defend your planeswalkers from multiple opponents at all times. Planeswalkers are also slow value engines, so not only do you have to protect them from attacks/removal by multiple opponents, but you have to do so for multiple turns for your planeswalkers to be worthwhile. You can't just put some planeswalkers on your otherwise empty board and expect them to do much. You gotta back them up.

Thankfully, there's lots of ways to help maximize the value of your planeswalkers, even in a deck that doesn't have access to White or Green. Here are the primary things we're looking for:

  • Extra loyalty activations. The more times we can use our planeswalker abilities, the stronger they become. We can do this three ways: first, there's cards that specifically allow extra activations, like The Chain Veil. Second are extra turn spells; extra turns mean extra activations, my favorite for Superfriends usually being Savor the Moment due to its low cmc and its drawback not affecting planeswalkers, but in an Artifact deck Time Sieve is the nuts. Finally we can copy loyalty activations with Rings of Brighthearth.
  • Extra loyalty counters. We do this primarily with the proliferate mechanic. Flux Channeler gets silly fast, but in our Artifact deck we can also run the niche Throne of Geth.
  • Protection against creatures. We're probably running way fewer creatures than our opponents, which means we need to take extra measures to stop our opponents from easily attacking our planeswalkers. Some planeswalkers, like Saheeli, Sublime Artificer can make an army of chump blockers, while others like Ob Nixilis Reignited can take out threatening creatures, but we still need some more efficient ways to protect them. Board wipes like Toxic Deluge are excellent ways to wipe the board of anything that can attack our planeswalkers, but there's an even better way if you and your opponents are okay with it ...
  • Non-planeswalker stax. We can take full advantage of our creature-lite deck by running powerful creature hate cards like Overburden, Pendrell Mists, and Tainted Aether. We can also deal with creatures and everything else at the same time with cards like Obliterate. Who cares about Doubling Season when our opponents can literally do nothing to stop us?

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Artifact Support Cards

While we're primarily a Superfriends deck, we've also got this Artifact theme that we can further support. I wouldn't recommend running lots of high cmc artifacts if you're already filling your top-end with planeswalkers like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, but lower cmc artifacts that enhance your theme can be useful. With that in mind, here are some options to consider in an Artifact Superfriends deck:

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Bolas Support Cards

Okay, there's only two cards in this category, but they're so sweet that I have to give them a shoutout. First up is Dark Intimations. It's a great Commander card all its own, scaling up in value for multiplayer games and is one of the few ways Grixis can get back a planeswalker from the graveyard. Then as an extra bonus, our next Bolas planeswalker we cast comes with an extra loyalty counter! Sweet!

But holy moly this one is nuts: Deliver Unto Evil. First off, we can get any cards back with this, including planeswalkers and enchantments, something Grixis has very limited ways to do. Without a Bolas on the battlefield you can use it politically to get back cards that mutually benefit you and an opponent. But if you control a Bolas 'walker, you get to Regrowth four times for just three mana! Wow!

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Everything Else!

Alright, we covered cards that support our specific Artifact Superfriends archetype. Now let's talk about the rest of the cards in the deck: lands, ramp, removal, card advantage, etc. This is generic Grixis stuff that you'll need to fill out and balance your deck. Again, cheaper cmc options are usually better because our mid-to-high cmc options are already filled with planeswalkers.

 

Putting It All Together

Alright, now that we've gone over the card pool we're working with, it's time to talk about how we craft the deck. As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely but am mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ non-land cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 targeted removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; because you never forget to add some graveyard hate in your deck, right? Right? Right?!
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

 

$379 List ($20 card limit)

The first list has a budget restriction that no individual card in the 99 costs more than $20. We have crazy amounts of artifact ramp in the form of mana rocks (Izzet Signet) and planeswalkers (Tezzeret the Schemer). We generate tons of artifact tokens with Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and friends, using them to chump block and fuel our artifact synergies like Goblin Welder, Throne of Geth, and Time Sieve.

Early in the game we can drop Overburden / Lethal Vapors / Tainted Aether to cripple opposing creature strategies. We're packing lots of removal too thanks to 'walkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited. We slow our opponents down even more with Wildfire and Destructive Force, and eventually lock down the game by resolving one of our Obliterate cards. More than half our planeswalkers can win us the game by themselves if they're on the board when that resolves. No flashy combos or anything required.

We can speed up the clock on our planeswalkers with the help of proliferate engines like Flux Channeler and Inexorable Tide. Or double up on our counters with Deepglow Skate.

 

$498 ($30 card limit)

With our individual card price limit bumped up to $30, we can now afford The Greatest Thief In The Multiverse aka Dack Fayden, who does an excellent job stealing our opponents' Sol Rings. We've also got the sweetest 'walker of them all, the one that prompted me to write this article in the first place: Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. Super easy to win the game with him after resolving Obliterate. We also pick up Teferi, Temporal Archmage and The Chain Veil, which I don't think either enable combos in this deck, but who knows, they might!

 

$2,773 List (no budget)

If I had serious dough to throw around, this is the type of list I'd build. Our lands are far more consistent, our ramp is super explosive thanks to Mana Crypt and friends which means we can land a strong planeswalker on the battlefield starting on turn 1, and can clear the board of any issues with Wildfire by turns 2-3. Kinda ridiculous.

 

That's All, Folks!

I just did two back-to-back "mean" articles. Sometimes you just wanna blow up lands and make people discard cards, you know? But I've got that out of my system now, so I'll be going back to the usual "nice" articles for a while. I don't know what the next article will be yet so let me know what you want to see in the comments section below!


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