As the dust has settled on the War of the Spark preview season, it is clear that the set itself is meant to be a climactic event. The Gatewatch have assembled on Ravnica and finally fallen prey to Nicol Bolas’s ultimate plan for the multiverse. The last four years of Magic lore have building the super team that is the Gatewatch, made up of Gideon, Jace, Chandra, Ajani, and Teferi as we move into War of the Spark. For all the good the Gatewatch was looking to do, Bolas has seemingly been crafting plans and manipulating his own super team of planeswalkers to fulfill his selfish desires. Mainly, by attaining his god-like status of power similar to what he had prior to the events of Time Spiral block, aka The Great Mending.

Super teams are nothing new in pop culture. Comic books have had them dating back to March 1960 with DC Comics’ Justice League of America. On the other side of the coin, supervillain teams have existed for just as long. The first nuanced supervillian team did not come around until 1997 however: Marvel Comics’ The Thunderbolts, where a team of supervillains masqueraded as superheroes for nefarious reasons. My favorite incarnation of the evil super team—and the evolution of the Thunderbolts in Marvel continuity—was the Dark Avengers, headed up by Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin.

Last year I wrote about my thoughts on the “dark” version of the Superfriends archetype. I referred to the deck as “Dark Avengers,” which describes what the deck is supposed to be, like how some people refer to Affinity-less Affinity decks as “Decepticons.” But I also meant to evoke how Bolas and Osborn match up well as masterminds destined to be overthrown by their own hubris. Today is not about realigning the comics with Bolas’ team circa War of the Spark, but instead coming full circle to flesh out a Dark Avengers deck with Nicol Bolas at the helm. I will be looking to build a deck where flavor takes precedence over power, while leaning into Bolas’ unrelenting character by stripping opponents of life and cards.

Who is Nicol Bolas?

If you have somehow stayed out of the loop on Nicol Bolas, he is considered one of the most powerful planeswalkers of the Multiverse and possibly the oldest being alive. A spawn of The Ur-Dragon millenia ago, he has a twin brother Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Bolas’s spark ignited in rage from the knowledge that Ugin had become a planeswalker, thus attaining something he had not. For a much better background, I point readers to his Magic Wiki page.

As a commander, we have limited options for a Nicol Bolas at the helm. While his first incarnation from Legends is a fan favorite, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is the obvious pick for this deck, as he too can become a planeswalker. Unlike the Magic Origins flip-walkers, this Bolas doesn’t need a trigger symbolic of his lore to transform him into a planeswalker, only a wealth of mana. From a lore prospective, I wish we could have mechanically captured his rage and envy of his twin brother, Ugin. But from a gameplay standpoint, I would happily rather be able to reach his planeswalker state through the addition of mana rocks in our deck.

As for Nicol Bolas, the Arisen, I love how thematically he plays into the anti-Super Friends goal of the deck. His backside should also provide a strong answer to the additional planeswalkers I am expecting we’ll see as War of the Spark enter the format. If nothing needs to be answered or stolen from a graveyard, I will gladly draw two cards with his plus ability. But don’t expect to reach his ultimate against a mindful playgroup.

While we have Bolas at the helm, we will also be playing a few copies of Bolas tucked into our deck to ensure he can make an appearance as regularly as possible. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker may be the most bland of the playable choices, but he does a good job of removing other planeswalkers and problematic enchantments or stealing creatures that could threaten our team. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is much more a mastermind at the top of his game, ripping apart our opponents’ hands, using their resources against them, or firing off seven damage at whatever ails you. And Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God offers a possible win condition who also can copy the best loyalty ability on the battlefield.

Team Line-Up

Bolas is not one to arrange a scheme where he will be on the front lines. Call them either teammates or pawns, these planeswalkers are going to be clogging up the board as advantage machines and in some cases acting a route to victory. Liliana, Death’s Majesty and Liliana, Dreadhorde General are both high-priority cards for this deck, adding creatures to the board every turn or making it hard for your opponents to keep creatures to threaten you. Tezzeret, Artifice Master can protect our board while also building towards an ultimate that will cheat in whatever permanent we need next. The Artifice Master emblem might be one of the most important goals of the deck.

While for flavor only Sarkhan the Mad fits this deck, I want to include Sarkhan, the Masterless anyway. Turning all our planeswalkers into baseline 4/4 fliers is game-ending if we’ve filled our board with half a dozen. I like Ral Zarek and Ob Nixilis Reignited for removal and card advantage. And, if you manage to ultimate Vraska, Scheming Gorgon —maybe in combination with Sarkhan, the Masterless—you can steal a game out of nowhere.

The Tezzeret Paradox

As I was trying to define the line-up of Bolas’ team of ne’er-do-wells, I knew that Tezzeret was an easy pick. But at first, I questioned if the support would be there to include incarnations outside of Tezzeret, Artifice Master. While I am prioritizing flavor over function for this deck, it still needs to function. Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas are great cards, especially since Master of the Bridge’s plus ability is ridiculous compared to Agent of Bolas’ ultimate, while still being a plus ability. But I think for this deck, there is going to be room to dedicate to artifacts and make this pair of planeswalkers viable.

Commander already employs a lot of artifacts. As we’ve already discussed, we’ll be looking to ramp as a way of transforming Nicol Bolas, the Ravager rather quickly. I will be using the full suite of Ravnica Signets and possibly even Lockets we saw during this last trip to Ravnica to both ramp and hopefully get a high affinity count from Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge. While not ramp, Gem of Becoming will ensure that we’re not missing land drops. And I am willing to delay casting our general for a turn if I would benefit from Geth’s Grimoire in play.

Maintaining Loyalty

When I evaluate a planeswalker for Commander, I pay special attention to their the ability to gain more than one loyalty counter on a plus ability, protect themself, and reach their ultimate with two or less activations of a plus ability. That bar helps me to identify a potentially strong planeswalker for the format. Only Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker checks off all three of those boxes in this deck, so it seems especially important that we pack in support for our other planeswalkers to retain as much loyalty as they can and just maybe see some ultimates. Enter proliferate.

First seen in Scars of Mirrodin as a tool of the Phyrexians to spread poison counters, proliferate was a great mechanic to bring back in War of the Spark to enhance planeswalkers. Contentious Plan is a good supplement for Steady Progress, as in this deck being an instant is far less critical. With enough noncreature spells flying around, Flux Channeler should help skip several turns worth of activations very quickly. And Karn’s Bastion is my preferred Contagion Clasp, as its uncounterable and provides mana when we’re not proliferating.

But proliferate is the only way we’re going to be able to manipulate loyalty in unfair ways. Deepglow Skate and The Chain Veil were already highly desirable known quantities going into this set. I haven’t seen much attention given to Settle the Score, which not only handles a threat, but levels up one of our planeswalkers. And then there is The Elderspell, the nuclear option safety valve to the influx of planeswalkers. This one spell will likely insure that whatever ultimate you want to happen will happen, even at the cost of your other planeswalkers.

And All the Rest

The appeal of any planeswalker-focused deck is the power of the card type. But that power comes at a price, as some of our deck will need three mana of one color, while another needs two of a different color. In the case of this Dark Avengers deck, I would advise that you go for the highest tier of lands you can justify, as the ability to seamlessly cast spells of any mana combination from turn to turn is going to be important. In the place of that, mana rocks that can make blue, black, and red and Chromatic Lantern in the decklist would be my secondary plan for ensuring we can cast all our planeswalker and support spells.

For all the talk of planeswalkers, I haven’t really gotten to the control and unrelenting “group slug” elements I envision for this deck. Since we’re going to be creature-light for a Commander deck, I want to be pack in solid Mind Control effects in the form of Dragonlord Silumgar, Kefnet’s Last Word, and In Bolas’s Clutches. As both a control card and a possible combo with Tezzeret, Spell Swindle is my pet counterspell for the deck. And if you are in a metagame where players are often drawing excessive cards, Notion Thief should already be on your radar that is a great pick here.

Bolas is a pretty big killjoy. This is where the anti-group hug effects—also known as group slug—come in to tear down everything that players have built indiscriminately. Torment of Hailfire is one of the first spells that come to mind when you want to set back everyone else, with Death Cloud being the cheaper replacement. Dire Fleet Ravager is best known for its enter the battlefield effect, but as a creature with menace and deathtouch it can help finish out games if a sky full of dragons didn’t do it. Finally, it’s important to keep Pyrohemia and Pestilence in mind, as they don’t threaten our planeswalkers at all.

I have finally come full circle on creating a Dark Avengers deck with a planeswalker Nicol Bolas at the helm—something that wasn’t possible before. I hope that for all the Bolas fans out there, I was able to capture his unrelenting meanness and get the juices flowing for something truly enjoyable. I didn’t want to cover this topic until we’d seen all of the new set. As such, the timing of the War of the Spark preview season was so well positioned with Avengers Endgame coming out tomorrow.

I have some big plans for the next few weeks, but I think I’m going to step away from planeswalkers as my accidental topic for the month. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the EDH community, and streams on Twitch in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.

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