Monday, May 4, 2020

Magic: The Gathering - Commander Night Playback - Photo Finish with Nethroi

We're back with another Commander Night Playback. And naturally, I wouldn't be coming at you with a new build than my playgroup gracious allowed me to test out.

Thanks to the combination of Ikoria and Commander 2020 coming out at the same time, my mind has been aflutter with new build ideas. In particular, I became enamored with the new legendary creatures in Abzan (White/Black/Green) colors. For this match, I brought in Nethroi, Apex of Death, with a deck focused around making the most of his mutate ability to accrue value after every one is running low of resources.

My opponents were Sygg, River Cutthroat, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, and Kykar, Wind's Fury. And before you ask, we do allow planeswalkers as commanders at my table. (One day, they'll just be legal, but until then I'll always be arguing in favor of them.)

The game started out well for me, with ramping with Birds of Paradise on the first turn. While it's obviously not as good as the turn 1 Sol Ring from Sygg, none of the other players weren't ramping at all.

Unfortunately, I otherwise wasn't doing much either. Lukka had a Loyal Apprentice on board, but without a commander is was just a vanilla 2/1 with haste, and no one was worrying much about that. Meanwhile, Sygg managed to get on board with Faerie Vandal. Running vehicle tribal, Kykar had a couple of them out, but nothing available to crew them with. On turn 4, they were first to deploy their commander.

Sadly for them, I was playing lands and otherwise only had a Birds of Paradise on board. So when my turn up, I felt like I had to make some sort of move just to have a blocker out. The only creature I had in hand was Ravenous Chupacabra. With Kykar the highest value creature on board, it was the easy target for my creatures ETB trigger. I'd say I felt bad, but everyone who knows me would know I'd be lying.

The next few rounds were marked by Sygg's casting of Painful Quandary. At this point, every was running low on cards in hand, making casting every spell a difficult choice. Lukka was brave enough to take a life loss on the chin to deploy their commander, and this is where the fun began. With the commander on board, Loyal Apprentice created a thopter token during combat. Using that fodder, they used Lukka's -2 to exile the token, putting the topmost creature of their deck onto the battlefield in its place. Fortunately for the table, the card they got was Dragon Mage.

Once Dragon Mage swung in at Kykar, who let it happen voluntarily, all of us obtained a new hand, which Kykar immediately used to cast Austere Command and wipe out Painful Quandary and all 4-cmc or higher creatures. I lost my Chupacabra, but honestly I was happier with it in my grave than on board.

At this point, it was time for me to make my move. With the total of 8 mana I had access to on Turn 7, I played 2 creatures which would go on to define my playstyle for the rest of the match: Tayam, Luminous Enigma and Luminous Broodmoth. As long as their player has a decent crop of creatures on the board, their synergy is extremely powerful.

I took advantage of this synergy on my following turn by evoking a Shriekmaw, then casting Mentor of the Meek and Sakura-Tribe Elder. And while that seems scary, Lukka was making themselves and even bigger target by cheating out creatures like Utvara Hellkite and Combustible Gearhulk. Thanks to Lukka's +1, they also had a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in exile ready to be cast should they obtain a combo piece.

While this didn't really matter to me, since I had had a small detachment of flying creatures with vigilance I could bring back, including Shriekmaw to destroy any huge red creatures that dared to come after me. Sygg, on other other hand, was seeing two large forces mount around them. My tiny beaters certainly scared them, but the large flying dragons that could easily chew through their remaining life total was certainly more of a pressing concern. Combined with my pitifully low hand size, this was probably why they swung an Invisible Stalker over at Lukka, using it to Ninjustu in a Slient-Blade Oni.

The card Sygg used their oni to steal was of no consequence, but Lukka accidentally misread the effect, showing all of us their hand. What I saw made my heart drop: Mimic Vat. Part of this is due to my own misreading of the card. I had somehow forgotten that Mimic Vat can only exile one creature at a time, and that when it exiles a new creature the previous one is deposited back into the graveyard.

Now, this is still a problem because Mimic Vat could've exiled the cards that died before Luminous Broodmoth could resurrect them with a flying counter. But it's significantly less of a problem than "They can now exile everything that dies", which was the exact thought going through my head. And while Sygg was certainly growing in threat, losing my synergy made Lukka a top priority. As I kept swinging, removing flying counters from my aerial forces so that my Broodmoth would reanimate them, I was fortunately that my opponent did not realize they could negate my strategy, and allowed me to resurrect my forces while slowly chipping away at theirs.

Since I just drew it, and I had the mana to hard cast it, I decided to start heralding in the end of the game by playing Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar. At this point, Kykar had to bow out of the game due to prior obligations, but the rest of us kept on.

Adding to my good fortunate, Silent-Blade Oni swung in again at Lukka, with a Rogue's Passage making it unblockable. By stealing an Abrade and using it on Mimic Vat, they were, in their words, "undoing [their] mistake". Fostering the war between Sygg and Lukka wasn't intended, but with the sole threat to my game plan out of the way I was much more comfortable closing the game out.

When my next turn came along, I immediately mutated Nethroi onto my Multani, swinging at Lukka at kill them and mobilizing the rest of my forces against Sygg to take them both out. Without an answer, Lukka moved to surrender on Cockatrice. That was a mistake on their part, because Sygg came in with a good-ol' Cyclonic Rift. Although an unsurrender option exists on Cockatrice, it does not save your board state, meaning Lukka was effectively out of the game.

Using my remaining mana, I played my Birds of Paradise and Sakura-Tribe Elder once more, pitching a ton of reanimation targets for Nethroi next turn, throwing him back into the command zone in fear of it getting stolen thanks to Silent-Blade Oni. Setbacks aside, I was sitting pretty... until they played a Quietus Spike on Invisible Stalker. It didn't kill me, but it absolutely hurt even worse than seeing my Broodmoth on the enemy's side of the board.

Fortunately, thanks to all my Tayam triggers and the discarding I had to do at the end of last turn, I had all the tools I needed to finish off my adversary. By mutating  Nethroi onto Birds of Paradise, I was able to reanimate a ton of black creatures along like my Chupacabra, Yawgmoth, and Gary Asphodel. Destroying my Broodmoth and swinging in for 5 lifelink damage was the last bit I needed in order to turn the game in my favor.

Nethroi performed well above my expectations, and I am extremely happy with the deck. Looking at the list, I realize that a ton of cards I chose to include are dirt cheap, so I feel like this is something that could be reasonably built in paper. In many ways, it reminds me of my Muldrotha deck in how easily in get make effective and efficient use of the graveyard to recur and recycle powerful effects. Additional, it's like Muldrotha in that it doesn't require the commander to come out frequently. Nethroi is more of a finisher than anything else, giving the deck late game reach it might not otherwise have.

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