Deck Tech: Nekusar

Nekusar, the Mindrazer is a cool commander, because his effect, while not entirely balanced, is generally beneficial to everyone at the table. Card advantage is a good thing, even when it hurts you. That’s why Dark Confidant is such a good card in Modern. Sure, you might lose a bit of life here and there, but you’ll have answers and threats, and that more than makes up for the drawback. This makes Nekusar kind of a double-edged sword. Sure, you’re hurting your opponents, but you’re also helping them dig through their decks for their own wincons.

That being said, Nekusar lends himself to a certain type of deck construction. Wheel effects are especially useful in a Nekusar deck. Who cares that you just lost some good cards from your hand; your opponents just took seven damage apiece. Things that cause players to draw extra cards, and things that punish card draw, are also quite good. Since you’re already running a lot of wheel effects—and all that card draw means your opponents will probably be discarding at end of turn—you can also run things that punish discard.

A lot of people run Nekusar as a control deck. Lots of counterspells to keep their opponents from being able to do anything while they whittle away at life totals. I don’t like to do that. I’d prefer my opponents to be having fun, even if it means I’m less likely to win.

One thing I do in my Nekusar deck that I haven’t seen in other decklists (although I can’t be the only person to have thought of it), is I run ways to give Nekusar infect. Nekusar with infect plus some other draw effect plus wheel means ten poison counters per opponent. (I managed to do this Turn 6 in one particular deck test.) True, most people dislike playing against infect and might be a bit miffed to lose so early in the game, but at least they got to witness a pretty cool interaction, and it’s unlikely to be repeated the next game.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the deck. Since there are so many cards in this article, I won’t be hyperlinking all of them; if you want to see what they do, just copy the name into the search feature on this website.

Wheels:

Teferi’s Puzzle Box

Barbed Shocker

Dragon Mage

Jace’s Archivist

Magus of the Jar

Shocker

Whirlpool Warrior

Wheel and Deal

Dark Deal

Incendiary Command

Molten Psyche

Reforge the Soul

Time Reversal

Time Spiral

Wheel of Fate

Wheel of Fortune

Whispering Madness

Windfall

Winds of Change

Notice there are quite a lot of these. They make up the core of the deck. Sometimes they say draw seven, sometimes equal to the number of cards originally in hand (or that minus one), sometimes equal to the largest number of cards any player had in hand. Some of them say discard, some say shuffle into the library, some say put on the bottom. It doesn’t really matter; the point is they’re forcing a lot of card draw, all at once, and with Nekusar out, that means a lot of damage. The ones that say discard also synergize with other cards in the deck as we will discuss later on.

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Card Draw:

Font of Mythos

Otherworld Atlas

Temple Bell

Diviner Spirit

Kami of the Crescent Moon

Master of the Feast

Nin, the Pain Artist

Seizan, Perverter of Truth

Dictate of Kruphix

Fevered Visions

Forced Fruition

Spiteful Visions

Jace Beleren

Prosperity

Some of these cards make the card draw hurt; others are free gifts when Nekusar isn’t in play. But when Nekusar is in play, they speed up the process of whittling away at life totals until everyone is dead.

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Punishing Card Draw:

Fate Unraveler

Kederekt Parasite

Phyrexian Tyranny

Price of Knowledge

Underworld Dreams

We don’t want to count on Nekusar himself to deal all the damage. If we did that, our opponents could just make sure our commander never saw the light of day. With these back-ups, we can still win even if we don’t have access to our commander for one reason or another. And if we do have Nekusar out, they’ll just speed up the process.

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Discard:

Jin-Gitaxias, Core Auger

Liliana’s Caress

Megrim

Painful Quandary

Waste Not

I’ve grouped together all the cards that deal with discard (excluding the wheels already mentioned), since there aren’t very many of them. Some of them cause discard; others punish it. And since so much discard is going to be happening, Waste Not is an auto-include.

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Control:

Lightning Greaves

Swiftfoot Boots

Silent Arbiter

Cancel

Counterspell

Dissipate

Dissolve

Murder

Tragic Slip

Scatter to the Winds

Void Shatter

While the deck isn’t control-oriented, it’s still a good idea to have some methods of control. Countermagic is great for that. I also like having ways to protect my commander and myself. Having ways to get rid of annoying creatures is also nice.

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Infect:

Grafted Exoskeleton

Corrupted Conscience

Glistening Oil

Phyresis

As mentioned before, giving Nekusar infect is just mean. Grafted Exoskeleton is great because it’s re-usable, and can be equipped to one of my other damage-causing creatures if Nekusar gets killed. Corrupted Conscience can steal an opponent’s creature if I feel the need. Glistening Oil is also repeatable, since it returns to hand when the creature it’s enchanting dies.

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Miscellaneous:

Library of Leng

Phyrexian Metamorph

Psychosis Crawler

Dictate of the Twin Gods

Furnace of Rath

Havoc Festival

Wound Reflection

Library of Leng means that when I wheel, I can keep the hand I already have. Phyrexian Metamorph can copy one of my utility creatures like Dragon Mage or Jace’s Archivist, or one of my artifacts like Teferi’s Puzzle Box. Psychosis Crawler punishes my opponents each time I draw a card, and because state-based actions aren’t checked in the middle of resolving spells or abilities, he can survive when I wheel. Dictate and Furnace speed up the game by doubling the damage Nekusar deals; Wound Reflection does the same thing by doubling the amount of life lost. Havoc Festival is my favorite card, and keeps life-gain decks from becoming a problem while bringing all decks within easy kill range.

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Lands:

Bojuka Bog

Command Tower

Crumbling Necropolis

Dimir Aqueduct

Dimir Guildgate

Dragonskull Summit

Drowned Catacomb

Geier Reach Sanitarium

Grixis Panorama

Island x7

Izzet Boilerworks

Izzet Guildgate

Mountain x7

Rakdos Carnarium

Rakdos Guildgate

Reliquary Tower

Swamp x6

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Most of the lands here are pretty self-explanatory. I need the right distribution of mana to be able to cast my spells. Geier Reach Sanitarium is there for the card draw. The Urborg is because Underworld Dreams can be awfully hard to cast, and the Reliquary Tower means I don’t have to discard if I wind up with more than seven cards in hand, which in this deck is a distinct possibility. Bojuka Bog is a more recent addition, just in cast I encounter graveyard-heavy decks.

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So that’s the deck. Now let’s see what it looks like in action.

Two weeks ago, I brought it to the card store to play in the Commander pods. I was intending to play Kaalia of the Vast, but when I saw one of the players in my pod was a friend of mine, and another player pulled out Gisa and Geralf, whom I intend to use to replace Grimgrin as my commander for my zombie deck, I decided to pull out Nekusar instead. While still mean, Nekusar doesn’t have land destruction, and the amount of card draw he engenders is a great recipe for shenanigans.

My choice paid off. By Turn 2 I had a Waste Not in play, and it started netting me zombies immediately, since unfortunately my friend (who was playing Grimgrin) was mana-screwed and had to discard. Even mana-screwed, he still managed to be the hero of the game, which we’ll get to in a bit. In the end I had seven zombies tokens, which is the best use of Waste Not I’ve had to date.

Turn 3 I got a Master of the Feast, so my opponents were already drawing extra cards even before Nekusar hit the field. That also provided me with a 5/5 flyer with which I proceeded to beat face.

Turn 5 I played Nekusar, because I could. There are very few better Turn 5 plays for that deck. Magus of the Jar might be a better option, because then I’d be able to play Nekusar the next turn and sacrifice the Magus immediately, but I didn’t have that particular card in hand. As for what I did have in hand, Nekusar was definitely the correct play.

The Karador player seated to my right had played Pernicious Deed, and I assured him that he was going to want to sacrifice it for 5 on my next turn. He shrugged and said maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. Well, the next turn rolled around, and I swung with Master of the Feast and my seven Zombie tokens, all of which got +1/+1 because Gisa and Geralf had played a Bad Moon. I arranged it so the damage would be distributed fairly evenly, including blockers (G&G had some, the other players did not). Karador didn’t want to take the 6 from MotF, so he decided to sacrifice the Pernicious Deed for 3, despite the fact that I’d repeatedly told him he’d want to get rid of Nekusar; he was trying to be nice. (Protip: Don’t be nice to Nekusar. He’s pure evil and does not understand.)

Second main phase, my only nonland permanent was Nekusar. So I enchanted him with Glistening Oil. The Grimgrin player wasn’t paying close enough attention, and allowed it to resolve. I then attempted to cast Molten Psyche, which Grimgrin countered, thus saving the entire table from a terrible fate.

Of course, Nekusar still had infect, so when I passed the turn that two draw step damage became two poison counters for each of my opponents.

Then it was Turn 7. I had Havoc Festival in hand, along with the mana to cast it (I hadn’t yet missed a land drop that game), but instead chose to cast Barbed Shocker. The reason for this was that the Karador player, whom I deemed the most immediate threat, had no blocking creatures and six cards in hand. I swung Nekusar and the Shocker at him, forcing him to discard his hand and draw six. With the two poison he’d already taken during his draw step, that should have been game.

Instead, Karador chose to dredge a card from his graveyard to replace one of the draws, and managed to stabilize at 9 poison counters. Grimgrin returned Nekusar to my hand using Cyclonic Rift, and Glistening Oil went to the graveyard, triggering its ability to return it to my hand, as well. I had enough mana to re-cast both cards the next turn, thus renewing the cycle; but Karador used Birthing Pod to dig for Mindslicer during my draw step, which he then sacrificed to another effect, forcing me to discard my entire hand, including the card I’d drawn for turn. He’d also gotten a Dark Depths during his turn; when I asked if he played Vampire Hexmage, he said no, but that he did have a Thespian’s Stage somewhere in the deck. During my main phase I re-cast Nekusar, then passed the turn. That was, incidentally, the only time I missed a land drop that game.

Meanwhile G&G had been building up quite a boardstate of zombies and swinging at us, getting everyone down around 30 life. But Karador’s Turn 9 play of Peacekeeper put a stop to that. I was quite happy with it myself, since Nekusar doesn’t need to attack to do damage (although being able to get in there with my Barbed Shocker might have been nice).

Turn 10, I drew a Time Reversal, but couldn’t play it, because Karador had just (re)played Gaddock Teeg. Grimgrin got an Agent of Erebos, and exiled Karador’s graveyard. In response, Karador cycled a card so he could dredge his Life from the Loam. The three cards he dredged into oblivion were Sigarda, Host of Herons; Phyrexian Altar; and Thespian Stage. In all, he lost 32 cards.

The next turn, I got a Phyrexian Metamorph, choosing to copy Karador so I could cast Seizan, Perverter of Truth from my graveyard. There were one or two more turns after that, with nothing really exciting happening. The game ended in a draw due to time constraints, with everyone around 20 life, except Grimgrin who was at 8. Given enough time, either Karador would have combo’d off, or Nekusar would have beat everyone down to zero, but it doesn’t really matter, because everyone had a great time.

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I played the deck again last Friday. I almost played Kaalia, since one of my opponents was one of those unfun players who plays cards like Jokulhaups, and it would have been a perfect test for her; but I wanted to get in one more test of Nekusar before I posted this article.

Again, I didn’t miss a land drop almost the entire game. Opening hand I got Reforge the Soul, which I sat on for turn after turn, just waiting for the right time to cast it. Turn 2 I got Swiftfoot Boots. Turn 3, Megrim. Turn 5 I got down Nekusar, having luckily drawn an Island on Turn 4; before that I was stuck on one Swamp and a bunch of Mountains. The Tasigur player across from me copied my Nekusar using Clever Impersonator, which was pretty awesome. Turn 5 I got down Dictate of the Twin Gods and should have equipped the Boots but forgot. That allowed the Marath player to kill both Nekusar and the Clever Impersonator clone before his draw step, meaning no one took the twelve damage from drawing three cards with two Nekusars and a Dictate in play.

Turn 7 I had a Havoc Festival in hand but chose to play Font of Mythos and Fevered Visions. Card draw was no longer directly detrimental, but I was keeping my opponents above maximum hand size and thus forcing them to take damage upon discard. Unfortunately the Marath player O-Ringed my Dictate, which was a good play but left me very sad. I’d been planning to cast Reforge the Soul on my next turn and kill all my opponents.

Instead, on Turn 8 I replayed Nekusar, this time using my extra mana to equip the Boots. I try not to make the same mistake twice. At this point the highest life total other than mine was twenty; with everyone at seven cards, Reforge the Soul was going to win me the game.

Alas, it was not to be. The unfun player, whose commander was Norin the Wary, cast Jokulhaups, wiping the entire board save for enchantments. Megrim was still happily dealing two damage to those opponents who weren’t drawing lands and thus were forced to discard. Luckily I still had a land in hand, and Turn 10 I drew another, allowing me to cast Shocker. By this point Norin had a Purphoros down, which meant two damage to each of us whenever anyone played a spell, since Norin would get exiled and return, thus triggering Purphoros’s ability. The next turn I planned to attack Norin with my Shocker. Norin would get exiled, and he didn’t have the devotion to make Purphoros a creature, so the damage would go through, and the fourteen damage from discarding his hand would be enough to kill him. Unfortunately—well, fortunately for him—he had Confusion in the Ranks, which he played, exiling Norin and stealing my Megrim. When Norin returned, he traded it for my Shocker, thus saving himself from a grisly end.

A turn or two later, after being hit with my own Shocker, I was able to play an Island and cast Phyrexian Tyranny, getting back my Megrim. Tasigur died during his clean-up step due to being stuck at only one mana and thus being unable to pay for Phyrexian Tyranny’s cost, and then being forced to discard and taking another 2 from Megrim. Norin won at 6 life.

Considering the majority of the damage was dealt by my deck, I can’t be too unhappy about the results. In two different instances, if Norin hadn’t had exactly the right card, I would have won. The fact that I didn’t win is incidental. If that’s all I cared about, I would have played Kaalia. I wanted to see how Nekusar behaved when he didn’t have infect, and this game was a perfect example. Also, if not for the exiling of my Dictate, I would have been able to win the game without re-casting my commander—proof that the deck is versatile enough to function without Nekusar in play.

All in all, I’m quite happy with the way the deck turned out. I don’t normally have any fun playing against the Norin player, and this game I actually enjoyed myself, despite the fact that he won. The previous week the entire table seemed to have a good time, even though infect usually elicits groans from everyone involved. Overall it seems to be a pretty good deck. The card draw and lack of overt control means that other players get to play their decks and interact with each other and also with me, so that if I do win it doesn’t feel like an inevitable train wreck they’ve been watching approach for half a dozen turns.

And with that settled, I can move on to my Kaalia deck, in all its violently destructive glory.

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