Underutilized Commanders

In my next few articles I plan to go over 4 commanders from the Commander 2013/2014 products. These cards don’t to get the love they deserve for being specifically designed as commanders.

To start this off, let me show you the data I got from edhrec.com that depicts the number of decks using a specific commander.

Commander 2014

Commander 2013

You can see that the numbers between Commander 2014 decks and Commander 2013 decks greatly differ. This is because there’s a whole year of deckbuilding between them, but you can still see that there are some cards that don’t seem to be used as much as others. To be honest though, there might be one card that really should have that low of a player base: Jazal, he is just terrible if you ask me.

The Big 4

Which four did I pick to write about? Two of each product series. Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath and Teferi, Temporal Archmage from the more recent Commander 2014, Shattergang Brothers and Gahiji, Honored One from Commander 2013.

Which leads me to today’s topic…

Ob Nixilis

Ob Nixilis - Man, General, Planeswalker, Demon

One mistake many people make when evaluating a planeswalker is define them by their “+” ability. Sure, having a strong effect you can use over and over without any need for managing your loyalty is nice, but history shows that a good amount of the “broken” planeswalkers see play because of their interaction between “+”-ing and “-”-ing.

A perfect example of this is Baby Jace. Once flipped onto the planeswalker side, you’ll get one -3 activation which usually provides a ton of value. After that, you can tick him up, readying another possible activation while also protecting your life total and your planeswalker from some immediate retaliation. It gives you the opportunity to really put the value you’ve gained to work.

You may see where I am going with this. Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath is often misunderstood as some sort of lifegain/drain general that should utilize cards like Greed or Bond of Agony. Don’t get me wrong, you can build your deck how you want to, but, besides being rather boring to play, I believe that the true potential of Ob Nixlis can be realized by using his insane “-2” ability as often as possible.

The way I see it, just focusing on gaining a lot of life and then putting it to good use often backfires. Accumulating a very threatening amount of life by “stealing” it from others can cause your opponents to turn on you to even out the life totals again. So, at the end of the day you’ll have roughly the same amount of life as everybody else while having all these “pay life” cards in your deck. Not so fun, eh?

Creating a deck

With that in mind, I would now build the deck around Ob Nixilis’s “new” down-up-tick-pattern. The optimal play pattern for Ob Nixilis is to play him, tick down for the demon, tick up to make up for the -2 life, then tick down again for another demon… and so on and so forth.

When building around a certain effect/ability you should first consider the strengths, weaknesses and therefor ways to augment it.

Strengths of the above mentioned pattern:

  1. Offers a reasonable defense immediately after the first activation.
  2. Even if Ob Nixilis get’s handled you’ll have some staying value in both defense and offense.
  3. Once ahead you can close out games rather fast with just a few 5/5 Flying beaters.

Weaknesses of the above mentioned pattern:

  1. Ticking down makes your planeswalker vulnerable since he’s sitting on 1 loyalty.
  2. Losing 2 life over and over can be dangerous, even with the lifegain every other turn.
  3. To unlock the true power of the pattern you’ll need to have Ob Nixilis stay in play for at least 4 turns.

So how can you augment and improve the above pattern? Simply design the deck to have a good defensive stance in the games so you can protect your low loyalty planeswalker, relying on the demon tokens to do the beatdown work. Making your Demon tokens the main road to victory opens up a lot of space for utility, card draw and cards to help those tokens do their job in both offense and defense better.

Establishing a Defensive Stance

As mentioned, let’s first look for cards that will help defend ourselves and our trusty friend..

Here it is pretty crucial to play as few cards as possible that will interfere with your 5/5 demons. Reign of the Pit is fine because the 5 power of your demon will go into your new demon, but I’d try to minimize mass removal to a few cards like Damnation and Mutilate.

Also cards like Curse of Shallow Graves or Blood Reckoning are your friends, deflecting attacks to other people while also - in the case of the curse - offering yourself decent amounts of value.

Closing out the game

Once we have enough defense, we can concentrate on adding support for our Demon-Beatdown-Plan.

As previously mentioned, the idea is to control the enemies boardstate to a point where they can’t effectively harm your Ob Nixilis while you’re beating down with one or even two 5/5 Fliers. Equipment like more Swords of X and Y, Strata Scythe, etc. are always good with fliers, as are removal engines like Bitterblossom + Attrition or the like. Just keep the path clear for your Demons while staying defensive enough to never lose your general.

Of course every deck/strategy should have a decent backup plan. I’d just go with the usual “Mono-Black-Wins route”…

…of dumping a ton of mana into a gamewinning/breaking spell, especially since Caged Sun effects buff your Demon tokens. Who would’ve guessed that Death Cloud is my favourite X-spell to use here, getting rid of each player’s hand and board, leaving you with the upper hand by a mile and controlling a planeswalker capable of producing a seemingly endless stream of 5/5s with flying, while everyone else is hoping to draw the perfect mix of answers and lands to cast them. Oh, and time’s pretty tight because everybody lost a ton of life to that Death Cloud!

That’s my take on Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath! For those of you hoping for an example decklist… I never provide one of those because deckbuilding is one, if not the most, important aspect of Magic, so I don’t want to take that away from you. If you still want something to start with just write down the suggestions I made throughout this article and fill in the gaps.

I hope you liked the read and if there’s anything I can improve please let me know! Until next time…

See y’all ‘round!

A photo of Tobias Zehetner Tobias Zehetner

Tobias 'SibirianPns' Zehetner is an austrian software deveolper/student and a former competitive Legacy and Standard player who found his way into EDH several years ago. He enjoys vegan food, playing video games and his EDH matches as crazy as possible. The aspect of politics in EDH is what he enjoys the most about the format.