Nethroi, Apex of Death leads a powerless army to total domination! Zeroes to heroes! Hey readers! It’s about time I shared a Commander deck I’ve been working on. I’ve been lucky enough to get in some honest-to-goodness paper tabletop Commander in the last few weeks, with more on the horizon, so I’m even getting some reps in with the deck! So far it’s been great.
I was hoping to open a Brokkos, Apex of Forever in some of the Ikoria packs I got, but didn’t get one. Honestly, in hindsight, I’m not sure what I was thinking. Brokkos basically makes your creatures into 6/6 tramplers when it mutates onto them. There’s not a lot more to it than that. I looked into cool interactions, but they are few. Some part of me still thinks there’s some potential there, but I’m happy to have moved on.
What I did open was a Nethroi, Apex of Death. The comic book-style alt-art version, not Biollante, who sounds like he should be followed onto the battlefield by some flamenco guitar. I think I knew what the deck was going to be pretty quickly. I think I imagined a swollen graveyard full of Abzan (Indatha? WBG) goodstuff, and me struggling to figure out what impactful combination of creatures would add up to 10 power. I had this weird vision of only returning 2 or 3 creatures, tops, and just feeling, well… powerless.
Why couldn’t I just build a deck that, when Nethroi mutated, just pooped out ALL the creatures in my graveyard? Well, it turns out I could. I just had to make sure they all had 0 power when they are in there. Easy-peasy. Well, sort of. Luckily, there’s just enough worthwhile stuff to play.
Powerless Before You
The deck is here too, though a slightly older version. I like Archidekt for deckbuilding, but it sucks to have to link decks on other sites. It’s something I’m working on, and hopefully, I’ll be able to have complete decklists on here in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, I’ll break the deck down into what it’s doing and not doing.
The deck can broken down into Land, Graveyard Fillers, 0-Power Creatures, and some Miscellaneous Answers and Support cards.
The mana base is almost entirely Lands. There are no rocks, including no Sol Ring, no ramp spells despite this being a green deck, and only one lonely mana dork, the Millikin, who is there to mill as much as make mana.
WTH, amiright? Well, this deck can’t do velocity. There’s a simple reason: the deck needs some time to fill the graveyard. The ideal time to mutate Nethroi is on turn 7, because that’s when it should have the biggest impact. You can ‘power out’ Nethroi much earlier, but the cards you spend in making that mana reduce the threat and filler density of the deck. On the earlier turns, your Accelerated Mutation is cool, but your yard is probably pretty sparse.
This one is. Field of the Dead, that cross-format all-star, says it all about this mana-base. I have all differently named lands. I want to play at least 7 of them, without ramping. I want my lands to generate, or even become creatures, ideally non-humans, so I can have a ready mutation target for Nethroi. Field of the Dead is the best at this. I make my land drop for turn 7, make a Zombie, and mutate Nethroi onto it.
Sometimes the zombie gets whacked with Nethroi on the stack. Having your mutation target killed in response is a feelbad, but you still net Nethroi to help you stay alive a little longer and try again on turn 9. The lifelink helps a lot.
The deck has 9 creature lands, and several lands that produce tokens. Svogthos, the Restless Tomb even has some finisher potential in the deck. I cut Inkmoth Nexus because it draws tremendous hate. Mutavault, unfortunately, is a human, and not a legal mutation target.
The deck goes on to play as many cycling lands as I had available when building it. Since I’m not about velocity, I can afford to sequence my land drops around ETBtapped, and the card draw available from cycling is significant late game. I also play Crawling Sensation, which turns a cycling land into a surprise chump blocker, or even mutation target.
Beyond that, the mana base is about fixing colour, or keeping the heat off with something like Kor Haven. If you’re building your version of this deck, feel free to pack it with fetchlands and shocks and whatever. They are mostly unnecessary.
Turning to Graveyard Fillers, there are quite a few. At least 25 cards dedicated to binning my own stuff, including several of my creatures. It was something to warm up to, for sure. But they all have some upside. I went heavy on ones that would look at 4-6 cards from the top of the deck, and then have the ability to put a land into my hand, to make sure there were 7 on turn 7.
Like Scout the Borders here, many of them also offer a second card type to put in hand other than a land. I have a few that are creature or enchantment, and at least one that’s all enchantments, in Kruphix’s Insight, which can draw me three powerful cards and mill me 3 at best, and ‘just’ mills me 6 at worst.
I have a number of cards that offer repeat mill, like the above Crawling Sensation and the delightful Crop Sigil, which if played turn 1, will mill me 6 cards by the time I’m ready to mutate. Pretty good for a single mana investment. Plus upside! I often have delirium when I’m playing this deck, and sometimes even when there are cards in my graveyard!
Similarly, Wand of Vertebrae might look underwhelming, but the mill adds up quick, and the ability to reclaim your graveyard in the face of hate cards like Bojuka Bog is amazing. Perpetual Timepiece is even better.
I also added some mill on some bizarre and surprising sources. Animal Magnetism, for example, is all upside. I love making weird, easily dismissed cards like this into powerhouses.
Cards like Funeral Rites, Nostalgic Dreams, Sinister Concoction, and Price of Fame all give you some mill (or discard) in addition to something you want to do anyway, like kill opposing threats and draw cards.
Several creatures, like Millikin, are fillers in addition to being functioning bodies. The Core 21 card Carrion Grub has been a great find, milling, chumping, and then coming back to do it again.
And I finally get to play with Golgari Grave-Troll. The power of this thing is absolutely crazy. I can’t imagine it in 60 card constructed. The Troll is turbo mill, plain and simple. Dredge also synergizes nicely with my cycling lands. If I’m up to my ears in commander tax with a full graveyard in a long game, the Troll can even be my finisher. And if the Troll is reanimated in a Nethroi pile, it’s almost always going to die immediately due to a lack of creatures in the yard, so it can start dredging again ASAP. Gross.
That brings me to the meat and potatoes of the deck: massive, terrifying 0 Power Creatures. Whether they have an actual 0 as their power, or a * or X, it doesn’t matter as far as Nethroi is concerned. They all come back. While I have a couple of cards yet to add to all this, I’m pretty happy with my powerless juggernauts. Here are some highlights!
Elf Scout Realm Seekers is bonkers in this deck. 20/20 or more is extremely easy to pull off.
Similar card Custodi Soulbinders, and soulmate Stag Beetle, can be enormous too, and benefit from the slower deck because they take advantage of opponents who built up a bit of a board.
Giant Noble Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig gets enormous quickly, and along with Renata, Called to the Hunt and Cytoblast Root-Kin make for some fun sequencing decisions and synergy.
Helper robot Mindless Automaton leads the way in a small suite of card-drawers. It also helpfully bins itself without much trouble so it can be reanimated again and again.
Werewolf Shaman Sage of Ancient Lore rarely gets very big, but the ETB card draw is amazing. This card is on hiatus until I can get a Checklist/Substitute card I’m happy with. I painted one up, but it’s lumpy. Both Wall of Blossoms and Wall of Omens are there for the same primary reason, but also function as early game blockers that want to go to the graveyard so they can come back on mutation and draw more cards. Wall of Mulch can help them get there for even more card draw.
The remaining creatures are Hydras and Maros and such. They all have their merits and flaws, and some early experiments have already been upgraded. I’m wasn’t satisfied with Ghave, Guru of Spores, Hero’s Bane or Kalonian Hydra and replaced them with Workhorse, Primalcrux, and Multani, Maro-Sorcerer. The Bane gets to stay until the Werewolf comes back, though.
By contrast, Kagemaro, First to Suffer has way overperformed, based on how I thought it’d do.
Rounding out the deck are a few flexible answers and Miscellaneous Stuff. Utter End shouldn’t need explanation. It’s basically my only answer to Blood Moon, and I have to have the mana up when the Moon hits the stack or I will probably concede. I have Cleansing Nova and Austere Command as my boardwipes, because I also choke hard on cards like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, and a sweeper that can alternatively deal with stuff like that is invaluable.
Sweepereanimator Living Death is like a backup Nethroi effect stapled to a boardwipe. It also deals with indestructible creatures nicely, as the effect is a forced sacrifice, not destruction. Full disclosure however: among the cards I’ve played in Magic that have backfired and killed me, Living Death has the highest body count. How did I forget the Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite? Exactly.
Shudder-inducer Spider Spawning is another answer to late game stalls that can be surprise-cast from the graveyard. The fact that they have reach is extremely significant.
Entwiner Road of Return does double duty as a recursion spell that also mitigates the high cost of mutating Nethroi more than once.
Finally we have some card draw. There’s Phyrexian Arena for steady gas, and then a few cards that can be absolutely insane when Nethroi mutates with a full yard.
Staple card Guardian Project will draw you a card for each creature entering. New hotstuff Garruk’s Uprising and classic Elemental Bond will draw for most of the ones in the deck. Having any of these on the board for a resolved mutation is likely going to refill your hand.
I’m playing with Recycle too! I’m unsure about the card, but hey, why not? I also have Null Profusion (the same card in black) though they both really cross me up sometimes. I’m still working on not drawing cards for turn. I’m not trying to cheat, I’m a moron.
If you look at the list on Archidekt, you can see a substantial Sideboard and Maybeboard. The sideboard is cards that are seriously under consideration for the deck. Some have been in and out already. The Maybeboard is mostly early cuts, where a possibility was playing a lot of ‘everyone discards’ cards. I don’t think it would work out, but I kept the Maybeboard to keep that idea in the back of my mind.
Having played the deck a few times has given me some insight into how it performs versus how I want it to perform. I really like it, it’s hard to stop, and it’s pretty amazing to see in action. No complaints. I don’t miss the Sol Ring.
I do feel there is a ‘combo’ lurking that I’d like to remove. I don’t like combos, because I feel like I didn’t win, the unresolvable math loophole did. Whoopie.
I really like Greater Good in this deck, but it might be too strong on its own, and while I also liked Psychosis Crawler as a way to get some reach, the two together are just too powerful. I played a game where a Nethroi mutation gave me enough board power to kill both opponents by sacrificing my creatures to Greater Good with the Crawler in play. One opponent had 40 life, which was also the exact number of cards left in my deck, it turns out. I had to sacrifice exactly 40 power worth of creatures to win, but it wasn’t super satisfying. Once is enough. The Crawler, at least, is now out.
I’m keeping Crashing Drawbridge (and Concordant Crossroads) out of the deck as well, for the same reasons. Being able to sometimes ambush alpha because I got a lucky draw isn’t my style, and it’s just as likely that the Drawbridge will be as summoning sick as everything else when I need it most, and I’d need a Lightning Greaves for it anyway. Nah.
If you want to build a more competitive version of this deck however, those are probably places to start. Ulvenwald Hydra is probably a good idea too. Then I would think about counting to ten, as in adding 10 total creature power to the deck. It could be a green value package of Eternal Witness, Avenger of Zendikar, Champion of Lambholt and Cultivator of Blades.
It could be a singular, multifaceted wincon, like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
It could be a pseudo-haste alpha-strike package of Craterhoof Behemoth, Mogis’ Marauder and Odric, Lunarch Marshal.
Any which way, the function of the deck will still be absolutely the same. Make 7 land drops, mutate Nethroi, put all the creatures from your graveyard into play, try and win. Honestly, I’ve had a blast with this deck, and I hope you will too!
As always, thanks for reading, and please feel free to badger Maro and other Wizards social media staff about eco-positive packaging. It’s past time.