It’s been awhile since I last graced this space with my words. I’d like to say I’ve been busy with things far more important than a silly little blog, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve just been lazy and not felt the urge to write about anything as of the past few months.
I think it’s time to change that.
For those of you who’ve read this blog in the past, welcome back to Friday Night Malafarina. For those of you just joining us, I hope you enjoy your stay. Now let’s talk about Standard.
Return to Ravnica
Since I’ve been away, the Magic world has been shaken up by the yearly rotation of expansions. It seems like only yesterday we had turn-one Delvers flipping Mana Leaks over into the faces of defeated opponents, while Birthing Pods tapped to turn humble Blade Splicers into savage Ravagers of the Fells. Players were still Pondering the merits of Blue-White midrange versus Delver while Primeval Titans trampled over all who opposed them. Now we live in a strange new world filled with giant, tusked beasts that require two spears to kill, the Return of the demon lord Rakdos spelling doom for opponents, and the triumphant second coming of a four-mana Jace that can claim to be somewhat near He Who Shall Not Be Named in power and versatility. It is a format where a card like Bonfire of the Damned is too costly and inefficient while Mizzium Mortars is just fine at two or six mana, and Geist of Saint Traft isn’t the scariest thing one can face (though it is still pretty scary!)
Welcome to the tier 2 metagame, my friends.
For those of you new to Magic who don’t know what a tier 2 metagame is (and have a premium account on Starcitygames.com), I refer you to Mike Flores’ article from last week. The key point to take away from the article in question is that there are three conflicting models for deck design: the linear model, the tier-two metagame, and the haymaker model. With the linear model, Wizards has more or less designed the deck from the ground up and the players simply fine-tune the intricacies of said deck. This is the case with tribal decks like Zombies and Goblins, or Affinity in Modern. The deck exists because Wizards intended for it to exist.
The haymaker model is the model to which we have grown accustomed in the past few years. While most people would point to the obvious example of Primeval Titan, Flores chooses to point out Tarmogoyf as one of the first indicators that constructed Magic had moved to a more haymaker-based strategy. Before Tarmogoyf, it was perfectly reasonable to expect a game to be won off Meloku, a 2/4 flier for five mana that needed a certain board state to actually take over a game. After Tarmogoyf, we saw decks being built on the backs of the inherent power of each card rather than synergies and card advantage. Planeswalkers are guilty of contributing to this style of deck building, as are the myriad of powerful enters-the-battlefield creatures we’ve been seeing in recent years, most notoriously the Titan cycle.
However, I agree with Flores that Standard has regressed back to the second model of deckbuilding not seen since we last visited Ravnica. While haymakers still exist in the form of Angel of Serenity, Thragtusk, Geist of Saint Traft, and other ridiculous creatures, games have become less about individual threats and more about having a solid game plan, whether it be extreme aggro, total control, or out-valuing your opponent. There are a greater number of viable decks in the current Standard format than there have been in quite some time, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be accomplished if we think outside the box.
Living in a Brewmaster’s Paradise
One of the biggest pitfalls for any Magic player is conflating a previous constructed format with a post-rotation format. Many people entered into the new Standard environment expecting Zombies to be the top deck and expecting Delver to still exist in some form (I mean, the card is still legal and all!) However, in a format devoid of Mana Leak, Vapor Snag, or Primeval Titan-into-Kessig Wolf Run, games tend to go longer and players are not punished for taking time to set up their game plan. As such, control is an actual presence in the metagame and Cavern of Souls is more or less relegated to dedicated tribal decks.
Reanimator, a fringe strategy in the era of Delver, is an actual contender for the “best deck” in the current Standard format, having usurped Jund and Raka Midrange as “the deck to beat” in the last few weeks. While one could consider such a strategy to be indicative of a haymaker format, when a deck like Reanimator becomes the boogeyman it means the format is very receptive to new ideas, as its “unfair” strategy is easily hated out and thus can be forced to play a fair game against any deck in the field.
This is the kind of format that rewards innovation and punishes complacence, as relying on a deck that did well in the previous week can have you hated out the following. All of the “top decks” we’ve seen over the past few Grand Prix or Star City Games Opens have all been very near in power level, with no clear frontrunner in sight. Eventually, the metagame will reach equilibrium, but hopefully Wizards’ recent policy change of not posting Magic Online Daily Events decklists will have the intended effect of slowing down the evolution of the format enough that it won’t grow stale before the release of Gatecrash.
It is important to keep this in mind when brewing control for the new Standard. While your local metagame will vary only slightly from week-to-week, you have to be able to anticipate the next big deck at higher-level events and be able to figure out the answer to last week’s winners, then either play that deck or be prepared to beat that deck (or, as Patrick Chapin calls it, finding Level 2).
With Reanimator on top for the past few weeks and aggressive strategies like mono-red and Zombies on the downturn, the format is ripe for a control deck to take the gold at the next big event. Most of the top players are on Reanimator, Selesnya Aggro, Raka Midrange, or Bant Control, meaning our main offenders are planeswalkers, Geist of Saint Traft, Angel of Serenity, and what is more or less a glorified White Weenie deck. With this in mind, I believe I’ve found a deck that can go toe-to-toe with any and all of these titans of the format:
The Legion of Doom
1x Cyclonic Rift
2x Forbidden Alchemy
2x Izzet Charm
3x Think Twice
1x Ultimate Price
4x Blood Crypt
1x Desolate Lighthouse
4x Drowned Catacomb
4x Steam Vents
4x Sulfur Falls
2x Essence Scatter
2x Olivia Voldaren
3x Rolling Temblor
4x Pillar of Flame
1x Slaughter Games
1x Bonfire of the Damned
2x Mizzium Mortars
2x Rakdos’s Return
2x Sever the Bloodline
3x Jace, Architect of Thought
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
2x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
2x Rakdos Keyrune
1x Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
2x Snapcaster Mage
2x Thundermaw Hellkite
My love of Grixis Control may not be as well-known as my love of Mono-Black Control, but I’ve been known to cast my share of Cruel Ultimatums, or resolve a Nicol Bolas or two (not two at the same time, mind you!) While this deck seems to be a “sit back and react to everything my opponent does” sort of control deck, it is more proactive than it appears. The deck is packed full of answers to the various threats in the format, but subscribes to the concept of “the best defense is a good offense,” as is the case with the most substantial new inclusion to the deck:
2x Thundermaw Hellkite
I wasn’t initially sold on this card in control, opting to play Olivia Voldaren in its place at my local shop’s most recent Standard tournament and keep the hasty dragon in the sideboard. Then, I took Steve Campen’s advice (always a risky move!) and sided in this card against control decks, regardless of whether or not they were packing Lingering Souls.
I did not give this card the credit it deserved.
Having an opponent drop a Jace onto an empty board on turn four, only to chomp down on it with a 5/5 hasty dragon and leave him having to find a way to deal with this new threat sans his draw engine felt almost like casting Cruel Ultimatum. Going into the second round of a recent Grand Prix trial, I played against a hybrid Grixis-reanimator list that replaced planeswalkers with Lingering Souls and an Unburial Rites package. I realized in hindsight that, had I been playing Thundermaw Hellkite over Olivia Voldaren, I would have easily stomped my opponent in spite of his repeated recursion of Angel of Serenity, simply for the fact that I would get the dragon back to my hand and immediately smack him in the face for five, Lingering Souls be damned. On top of that, I realized that I was winning most of the games where I continually put pressure on my opponents before finishing them off with a Rakdos’s Return, and a 5/5 haste flier is a great way to put an opponent on the back foot.
Suffice to say, I used my winnings from the tournament to pick up two more of this guy and happily switched Olivia to my sideboard.
2x Rakdos Keyrune
By the same token, my closest games were the ones involving Strangleroot Geist, Rancor, and Silverblade Paladin. With Pillar of Flame in my sideboard, I was more or less a dog to the super-aggressive Selesnya strategies going into the tournament, mising a match win off a Selesnya beatdown deck in round three only to lose to a similar deck the following round. While Rakdos Keyrune may not have won me those games, it would have helped stem the bleeding against Thalia or Silverblade Paladin long enough to let me come back. The fact that it curves into Thundermaw Hellkite is just gravy.
1x Ultimate Price, 2x Izzet Charm
There were games where I would drop a Jace and activate his +1 ability, thinking him safe to my opponent’s assault on the following turn, only to have him eat a Rancor, Wolfir Avenger, Silverblade Paladin, or any other haste creature that could have been avoided had I been packing instant-speed removal. The presence of such cards in the format requires me to include removal which is narrower like Ultimate Price or less efficient like Izzet Charm, with the added bonus of Izzet Charm being able to counter planeswalkers, making the loss of a Dreadbore less painful.
2x Dreadbore, 2x Sever the Bloodline
I have been very impressed with Sever the Bloodline in current Standard, where exiling has become a very important mechanic to combat Reanimator and where token swarms are common. Dreadbore is a solid card, but I don’t think I need to run more than two to reliably deal with my opponents’ threats.
1x Bonfire of the Damned, 2x Mizzium Mortars
The miser’s Bonfire of the Damned is more theory than practice at the moment, as I added it after the tournament and only was able to test it against hybrid Reanimator, where it is basically dead. The logic on this card is threefold. Against Geist of Saint Traft, it kills the problematic creature a turn sooner than Mortars. It also provides an early board wipe against weenie swarms, but can come into play against control as well by taking out a planeswalker or doming them for lethal.
This used to be three Syncopates. What happened?
Control is a major presence in my local metagame, and Syncopate isn’t a good card in those situations. Sure, it’s great when you’re trying to counter a Geist of Saint Traft on the draw, but it’s better to have a way to force through a planeswalker when you’re playing the draw-go mirror. With the addition of Izzet Charms as the cheaper, “soft” counter, I’m comfortable main decking three of this card.
1x Cyclonic Rift
Grixis is notoriously soft to enchantments, and the widespread use of Detention Sphere and Oblivion Ring means that having a single Cyclonic Rift is a necessity. I had the pleasure of overloading this against a control player when they were at ten life, tapped out, and I had two Thundermaw Hellkites hidden under his enchantments.
It’s also super sweet to end-of-turn this into…
2x Rakdos’s Return
No Grixis control list is viable without this card. I considered running a one-one split between this and Devil’s Play, but testing has shown that this card is the game-ender against any control or midrange deck, and it is the most reliable way for this deck to actually win the long game. Nugging an opponent for four with this, then using Snapcaster to finish off their hand is completely reasonable, and actually won me a game in the top eight of the recent Grand Prix trial.
1x Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, 1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
For those times when Rakdos’s Return simply won’t cut it. It is impossible to lose a game once you’ve untapped with either of these cards in play. I won a game off Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius without ever activating his ability, simply using him as a 5/5 flying Ophidian while leaving mana up to counter or kill all of my opponents spells.
3x Jace, Architect of Thought, 2x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
I originally ran four Jaces, but testing has shown this deck is very good at protecting a Jace for more than a few turns. It may still be right to run four, as he is one of the main reasons to play blue right now, but I think cutting the last one for Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is entirely reasonable, as this deck already has very few win conditions to speak of.
Side note: Rakdos Keyrune allows for a turn-four Tamiyo, which is awesome!
2x Forbidden Alchemy, 3x Think Twice, 1x Thoughtflare
I am happy with this combination of spells for my draw engine. Forbidden Alchemy is an all-star alongisde all the flashback spells and Snapcaster Mage, and Thoughtflare is almost as good as Sphinx’s Revelation when you can bin excess lands and spells with flashback. I’ve been wavering back and forth between Think Twice and Desperate Ravings. Each has its merits, but I’m erring on the side of caution and running Think Twice at the moment. This deck already has a lot of card draw and very few win conditions, so randomly discarding said win conditions can be brutal.
2x Snapcaster Mage
Originally a three-of, he’s a solid card that I found stranded in my hand one too many times for my comfort. He almost always does something and I may bump the number back up to three in the future, but he’s a two-of for now.
1x Desolate Lighthouse
This card has never been bad for me, but I would never run more than one as it becomes much, much worse in multiples and strains the mana a tad too much.
3x Cremate, 1x Slaughter Games
Cremate inevitably comes in against Reanimator and Zombies, with Slaughter Games pulling double duty against Reanimator and control. Having a cantrip answer is always preferable in a control deck, but Angel of Serenity can be a real beast against this strategy and Slaughter Games naming Angel of Serenity makes any matchup involving that card a lot easier to win.
2x Essence Scatter
As stated in my explanation for the main deck Dissipates, this deck has a problem being on the draw against Geist of Saint Traft, so boarding into Essence Scatter seems like a reasonable answer when it can also deal with Restoration Angel, Thragtusk, Angel of Serenity, or any other problematic creature in a pinch.
3x Rolling Temblor, 4x Pillar of Flame
Rolling Temblor is included in the sideboard to deal with Geist of Saint Traft (to which this deck is somewhat weak), but also serves as an answer to Selesnya Aggro and Zombies. Pillar of Flame comes in only against Zombies and Selesnya Aggro.
2x Olivia Voldaren
As previously stated, this comes in when facing down Selesnya Aggro. It can also come in against Geist of Saint Traft decks, as it stacks up reasonably well against Restoration Angel and Moorland Haunt.
Playing the Deck
As with any control deck, the key is to know what is or isn’t a threat, and properly sequence plays. There are times where it is correct to counter a planeswalker (such as when you’d need the mana up on your turn to drop a threat of your own), but sometimes it’s equally correct to let it resolve, then Dreadbore or Thundermaw Hellkite it the following turn. It all depends on which planeswalker it is, and whether or not allowing the opponent to activate any of its abilities is too threatening.
By the same token, do not run out your threats unless you know you can protect them. This deck is relatively threat-light compared to a lot of other strategies, but has the necessary tools to keep its threats on the table. The only time when you can be liberal with casting spells is after resolving a Rakdos’s Return for your opponent’s entire hand, as you will almost always be ahead of them on cards for the rest of the game and as such can lose one or two threats to their answers. Just don’t get cocky.
Jace, Architect of Thought is probably the most difficult planeswalker to play optimally outside of Liliana of the Veil and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Against any non-black creature deck, it’s almost always right to use his +1 ability unless you have to dig for an answer, as he will buy you a nonzero amount of time while your opponent repeatedly bashes creatures into him. He is there to blunt the assault so you can force your opponent to over commit, or simply lock creature strategies down in tandem with Tamiyo. He also makes Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius very good against most creatures in the format.
The most important part of playing control is to never get too cute with your plays. In the quarterfinals of the Grand Prix trial, my opponent was facing down a tapped Thundermaw Hellkite and Snapcaster Mage with his Tamiyo at a reasonable five loyalty. Rather than keep my Thundermaw tapped while he waited for an answer, he chose to use her -2 ability to try and dig for that answer a turn early. This ended up costing him the game, as I had a second Snapcaster in my hand to swing in for lethal on the following turn. When in doubt, always go for the safer play; it is always preferable to put yourself behind to make sure you survive another turn rather than hope your opponent doesn’t have you dead to a risky move. This deck can out-attrition most other attrition-based decks, as it has plenty to do with its mana in the late game between flashed back Forbidden Alchemies and Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius activations.
This Standard format is far from solved, and as such this list is far from final. As the metagame continues to shift, so too must its answers. Now is the best time to be a brewer like myself; the current trend of SCG Standard Open results and Grand Prix finishes have shown that innovation is rewarded with a trophy and a write-up by Conley Woods or Patrick Chapin. Whatever your preference, make sure you know what you’re setting out to accomplish and know what obstacles lie in your way.
It’s all one big Epic Experiment; now is the time to don the white lab coats and get to work.
Dominaria’s most ancient evil.
His very touch can shatter minds. He is possibly the oldest living being in the Multiverse, and easily one of the most powerful. His name inspires fear in mage and planeswalker alike, and his very visage inspires awe and demands respect.
Could any Commander deck possibly hope to convey the sheer magnitude of a being such as Nicol Bolas?
Probably not, but it’s worth a shot!
1x Academy Ruins
1x Blood Crypt
1x Bloodstained Mire
1x Bojuka Bog
1x Cabal Coffers
1x Command Tower
1x Crumbling Necropolis
1x Dreadship Reef
1x Evolving Wilds
1x Great Furnace
1x Grixis Panorama
1x Halimar Depths
1x Maze of Ith
1x Misty Rainforest
1x Molten Slagheap
1x Mystifying Maze
1x Reliquary Tower
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Seat of the Synod
1x Steam Vents
1x Strip Mine
1x Terramorphic Expanse
1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1x Vault of Whispers
1x Watery Grave
1x Bottled Cloister
1x Coalition Relic
1x Contagion Clasp
1x Contagion Engine
1x Crucible of Worlds
1x Cursed Totem
1x Darksteel Forge
1x Darksteel Ingot
1x Dreamstone Hedron
1x Ensnaring Bridge
1x Everflowing Chalice
1x Gilded Lotus
1x Grafdigger’s Cage
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Mana Vault
1x Mind Stone
1x Nevinyrral’s Disk
1x Noetic Scales
1x Oblivion Stone
1x Rings of Brighthearth
1x Sensei’s Divining Top
1x Sol Ring
1x Spine of Ish Sah
1x Thran Dynamo
1x Throne of Geth
1x Torpor Orb
1x Chandra Nalaar
1x Chandra, the Firebrand
1x Jace Beleren
1x Jace, Memory Adept
1x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1x Karn Liberated
1x Liliana of the Veil
1x Liliana Vess
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1x Sarkhan the Mad
1x Sorin Markov
1x Tezzeret the Seeker
1x Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
1x Blasphemous Act
1x Cruel Ultimatum
1x Decree of Pain
1x Mystic Retrieval
1x Rite of Replication
1x Time Spiral
1x Time Stretch
1x Yawgmoth’s Will
1x Chaos Warp
1x Inexorable Tide
1x Mind Unbound
1x Phyrexian Arena
1x Rhystic Study
1x Charmbreaker Devils
1x Consecrated Sphinx
1x Phyrexian Metamorph
1x Rune-Scarred Demon
1x Solemn Simulacrum
1x Sphinx of Uthuun
1x Urabrask the Hidden
1x Wurmcoil Engine
Bolas is a puppet-master, preferring to coax others into doing his dirty work for him. This deck reflects that principle, utilizing all but two of the planeswalkers available to the Grixis shard (Koth of the Hammer and Chandra Ablaze are best utilized in mono-red decks).
The hot-headed Chandra Nalaar comes in two varieties, each one providing a different utility to further the great dragon’s plans. The original Chandra doubles as a creature removal and a win condition, coming down at a whopping six loyalty which allows her to take down even the strongest of titans. As for her younger, fierier iteration, the Firebrand can team up with Bolas’ game-breaking spells to double up their effect and utterly decimate his opponents with twin Time Stretches, Cruel Ultimatums, or even Time Spirals to ramp into massive mana.
Situated at the opposite end of the spectrum, but no less valuable an ally, is the mind-mage Jace Beleren. Classic Jace plays to Bolas’ Machiavellian tendencies, offering his opponents cards in order to gain political favor. Jace, Memory Adept serves to draw cards as well as fill the graveyard, storing cards for later use with Academy Ruins, Crucible of Worlds, and Yawgmoth’s Will. However, the crown jewel of the planeswalker suite is Jace, the Mind Sculptor; with so many board-sweepers at Bolas’ disposal, he can easily protect the Mind Sculptor, allowing for turn after turn of brainstorms that should help the elder dragon find more ways to crush his opponents.
Recently freed of his Phyrexian bonds, Karn Liberated provides this deck with something severely lacking in the Grixis shard, as he is able to remove any permanent from the game. As this color combination lacks good enchantment removal, Karn is an invaluable resource and can be utterly devastating once Contagion Engine or Rings of Brighthearth are active.
While she may be on an excursion to Innistrad, Liliana Vess remains under the watchful eye of the elder dragon and is at his beck and call in either of her printed forms. Liliana of the Veil provides an edict for troublesome hexproof, shrouded or otherwise indestructible creatures as well as a game-breaking ultimate ability that can be quickly achieved through proliferation. However, Liliana Vess is the more powerful of the two iterations, providing a repeatable tutoring effect as well as an incredible ultimate ability (so long as Grafdigger’s Cage isn’t on the field!)
He may have lost his mind, but Sarkhan the Mad is no laughing matter. Outside of Nicol Bolas himself (more on that in a bit), crazy Sark is probably the most threatening planeswalker in the entire deck. Liliana Vess, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sensei’s Divining Top all rearrange the top of the deck, so Sarkhan’s first ability more or less reads “draw a card” without a drawback. Moreover, his second ability helps to take care of hard-to-kill creatures like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, replacing any valuable utility creature with a random 5/5 dragon. It can also upgrade a Solemn Simulacrum or split open Bolas’ Wurmcoil Engine in a pinch! However, Sarkhan really shines with his master on the field, as his ultimate causes Nicol Bolas to deal seven to a single player and forces them to discard their entire hand. With proliferation, this can quickly end the game with Bolas victorious.
Sorin Markov is equally deadly in a format where life totals start at forty. For six mana, Sorin reads “target opponent loses 30 life” and with Rings of Brighthearth on the field the effect is doubly devastating. Even if an opponent manages to survive Sorin’s brutality, a follow-up Exsanguinate or Cruel Ultimatum should be enough to finish them off.
Ever the loyal servant, Tezzeret provides a great deal of utility to his master in both his forms. When Seeking, Tezzeret acts as both a ramp spell and a tutor. He untaps massive mana artifacts like Gilded Lotus and Thran Dynamo to power out Time Stretches and Exsanguinates, while also tutoring up artifact lands and mana rocks in the early turns to put Bolas ahead of his opponents. If there is a troublesome creature or Bolas suspects graveyard shenanigans, Tezzeret is equally capable of tutoring up Ensnaring Bridge or Grafdigger’s Cage to shut down opposing decks. As an Agent of Bolas he acts like a pseudo-Mind Sculptor; with twenty-nine artifacts in this ninety-nine card deck, his +1 ability will almost always find something with which Bolas can crush his foes. Speaking of crushing opponents; both forms of Tezzeret have ultimates equally capable of taking out a player in one fell swoop.
However, nothing can compare to raw power of Nicol Bolas himself. Steal a Primeval Titan, destroy a Cabal Coffers; Nicol Bolas is an all-encompassing threat that will leave unprepared opponents struggling to keep up. With so many artifact sources of mana, it is not unreasonable to have Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker enter the battlefield as early as turn five; in such a situation, victory is almost assured.
While lesser beings barely register to one as old and powerful as Nicol Bolas, there are a few creatures in the Magic Multiverse that have managed to attract his attention enough to warrant their inclusion in this list. The humble Solemn Simulacrum, for example, provides a bodyguard for the many planeswalkers in this deck, a body to sacrifice to Sarkhan the Mad, and mana ramp to power out the much more threatening planeswalkers a turn earlier. Both Rune-Scarred Demon and Sphinx of Uthuun provide powerful effects on a sizeable body, tutoring and drawing cards and offering a reasonable target for a kicked Rite of Replication.
From the plane of Innistrad, Charmbreaker Devils retrieves all the game-breaking spells in Bolas’ repertoire, allowing for successive Cruel Ultimatums or infinite Time Stretches. While many are not in favor of infinite turns, the rules of engagement do not apply to someone as ancient as Bolas; for him, there is all the time in the world to quash his enemies.
On his trip to New Phyrexia, Tezzeret encountered a number of powerful creatures with which his master finds great use. Jin-Gitaxias’ pet Consecrated Sphinx is a card-advantage engine unparalleled by any other creature in the Multiverse. Urabrask the Hidden grants Nicol Bolas himself the haste he needs to surprise opponents with his touch, fracturing their mind at a whim. The mighty Wurmcoil Engine is able to stop any ground assault while also regaining life lost by Bolas in the preceding interim. Finally, Phyrexian Metamorph is able to copy any of these threats to really put Bolas’ detractors in a tight spot.
Nicol Bolas is nothing if not thorough in his bid for control over the Multiverse. As such, it is important for him to be able to counteract any challengers. This deck reflects that in the board-sweepers it contains; Blasphemous Act, Damnation, and Decree of Pain, all fitting names for one as merciless as Bolas and all very effective at wiping clean a board full of bothersome creatures. Oblivion Stone and Nevinyrral’s Disk are different trinkets with the same purpose; destroy any noncreature nuisances that may threaten the machinations of the elder dragon.
While not a board sweeper itself, Ensnaring Bridge helps to protect Bolas’ domain by rooting any and all creatures in their place. With a Bottled Cloister on the battlefield, the domination is one-sided and doubly powerful, allowing Bolas’ minions to attack while keeping the opposing forces at bay.
In spite of all this creature control, it is quite unreasonable to expect creatures to remain dead for any extended period of time. Luckily, Bolas has managed to procure a Grafdigger’s Cage from the plane of Innistrad, preventing any Karmic Guides or Reanimates from resurrecting the dead. At the same time, it prevents his opponents from properly utilizing their Birthing Pods and Defense of the Hearts; as with any long-term plans, it is important to prepare for any and all contingencies.
As such, Bolas can put a Stranglehold on his opponents. While he can fully utilize his Rune-Scarred Demon and Tezzeret the Seeker, his opponents are forced to helplessly watch without being able to tutor for the appropriate answers. While it won’t last forever, it provides a stopgap measure to keep the elder dragon ahead of his enemies.
However, sometimes it is impossible to keep one’s opponents from finding those meddlesome creatures and, by the time they’ve entered the battlefield, cards like Acidic Slime and Karmic Guide have already done their damage. Luckily, Tezzeret has brought Bolas a Torpor Orb from New Phyrexia, insuring that those pesky enters-the-battlefield abilities never trigger. While it may stop Bolas’ Rune-Scarred Demon or Solemn Simulacrum, this is but a small price to pay to keep his planeswalker allies alive against Terastodon and Woodfall Primus. The orb also allows Noetic Scales to function at full capacity; there is no need to worry about bouncing Terastodon to its owner’s hand when it won’t do anything upon re-entry.
By the same token, some creatures don’t want to attack and don’t have enters-the-battlefield abilities. Cards like Fauna Shaman and Myojin of Night’s Reach pose a serious threat that requires the appropriate response. From the island of Jamuraa, Nicol Bolas has brought his Cursed Totem, preventing those annoying activated abilities from ever being activated!
His Trinkets and Spells
Throughout his many years travelling the Blind Eternities, Nicol Bolas has picked up a number of powerful artifacts that aide him in his schemes. Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine are two such artifacts, doubling as removal and card-advantage. It is for the same reason that Bolas has chosen to harness the power of the Inexorable Tide; suddenly, every spell he casts is like a cantrip, powering up his planeswalkers and artifacts faster than time normally allows.
The Crucible of Worlds is a powerful artifact when combined with fetch lands and Strip Mine, while also providing protection when milling oneself with Jace, Memory Adept. At the same time, Darksteel Forge protects the numerous artifacts in Bolas’ possession, making his Nevinyrral’s Disk that much more powerful. You might suggest that Bolas utilize the power of Mycosynth Lattice with these two artifacts to create a repeatable board wipe.
Your impudence amuses him.
With so many planeswalkers at his disposal, the Rings of Brighthearth act as a Chandra, the Firebrand for activated abilities, since every activation of a planeswalker is like a free spell. Woe unto the enemy who must face the Rings of Brighthearth alongside Chandra, the Firebrand’s -2 ability; I hear three Cruel Ultimatums in a row is a very disheartening experience.
Spine of Ish Sah and Chaos Warp both provide Bolas with the utility of Karn Liberated, allowing the Grixis-colored deck to deal with problematic enchantments and planeswalkers while still able to handle creatures, artifacts and lands. The spine is especially effective when coupled with the Throne of Geth (which, in turn, is doubly powerful with Rings of Brighthearth), offering up repeatable Vindicates as well as proliferation every turn.
What are all of these planeswalkers, creatures, artifacts, and trinkets leading up to? Some of the most game-breaking spells in the history of Magic, of course! After the battlefield has been properly handled and Bolas has assumed control of the battle, a massive Exsanguinate is easily able to kill off what remains of Bolas’ puny opponents. Time Stretch gives the mighty dragon a few extra turns when needed; in that time, it is but a mere trifle to actually finish one’s enemies. His signature spell, Cruel Ultimatum, while not affecting every opponent, can cripple even the most powerful of his enemies, neutering a threat that would have otherwise thwarted the dragon’s plans while granting him cards, life and creatures in the process. Finally, Rite of Replication can grant Nicol Bolas an instant army of the most threatening creature on the battlefield; creating five Rune-Scarred Demons is usually the end of the line for anyone looking to defeat Dominaria’s most ancient evil.
There Is Always a Greater Power
Nicol Bolas has lived for countless centuries. In that time, he has seen empires rise and fall, worlds appear and crumble, and time itself become shattered by the very magic he seeks to dominate. He is nothing if not a patient conqueror, willing to sit on his laurels and manipulate the strands of fate wherever it favors him.
Many have tried to best him in battle.
All have failed.
So challenge him if you must. Nicol Bolas is more than willing to take some time out of his busy schedule to put you into your place. After all, you know what they say:
“All work and no play…”