Archetune-Up - The Original Aristocat

(Nethroi, Apex of Death | Art by Slawomir Maniak)

Feline Frivolity

Hello, and welcome back to Archetune-Up, a weekly article series devoted to tweaking a deck with the help of the EDHREC Theme pages!

We have yet to do an Abzan deck on Archetune-Up, so since we have four new Abzan-colored commanders from Ikoria and Commander 2020, so I thought it would be appropriate to try and play around with one of them! Of the four, the one that piqued my interest the most was my favorite Apex, Nethroi, Apex of Death!

Despite my interest in Nethroi, this week's article was a bit of a struggle. I ended up shelving the original decklist for the article and moving on to a different one. But after some inspiration from the wonderful Twitter community, I looked back into it and honed in on which themes I wanted.

There are two reasons why I have taken a liking to Nethroi over the other members of the Apex cycle.

The first is the fact that its ability is incredibly strong while also interesting and fun to build around. A deck built around Nethroi feels like a more explosive Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck. Nethroi caring about a total of 10 power allows you the ability to sneak multiple low-powered creatures like Embodiment of Agonies, Hermit Druid, or Knight of Autumn all at once. You aren't limited to a single creature at a time. This allows you to either combo or out-value your opponents, giving you an amount of flexibility that the aforementioned Ghost Chieftain lacks.

The second reason I prefer Nethroi to other Apexes is that its Mutate ability only needs to be triggered once for you to feel like you've gotten full value from it. Unlike with Vadrok, Apex of Thunder, who needs to trigger multiple times to do powerful things, or Brokkos, Apex of Forever, who is simply a big, recursive beater and Mutate enabler, Nethroi's ability can be abused and can stand on its own. With it, Nethroi is able to boast a unique form of reanimation that Karador and even Meren of Clan Nel Toth can only dream of.

Even though Nethroi is only a few weeks old, let's see what kind of list EDHREC has for the Apex of Death!

Average Nethroi

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Commander (1)
Creatures (35)
Sorceries (10)
Instants (7)
Enchantments (7)
Artifacts (6)
Lands (34)

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The average Nethroi list is a bit funky, since it's sporting 36 creatures and only 34 lands. I am going to chalk this little hiccup up to simply not having a big enough sample size to pull better "average" numbers from. This is one of the reasons why I based last week's Kalamax, the Stormsire deck off Riku of Two Reflection's average list. That begs the question though: why did I throw that reasoning out the window when looking at this article? Well, the reason for that is because the deck itself is only going to consist of those two card types, creatures and lands, so I didn't think having a completely "average" list was entirely necessary.

With all of that being said, I do think It's time to introduce you to the second headliner of the deck, whose entire presence caused me to warp the deck's card types around them....

Don't Snooze on the Ooze!

I've been vocal about my displeasure for Companions in EDH on Twitter, but I will save talking about that here for a different time. We're here to be fun and creative, so I thought an interesting direction to take with deck would be an all creature list with Umori, the Collector as Nethroi's Companion.

Umori can help us ramp and power out creature turns earlier than what our opponents are expecting, while also giving us a solid 4/5 body all for four mana. Nethroi can then be utilized to bring these creatures back after the inevitable board wipe, giving us a good play pattern between the two. I wouldn't exactly say they have synergy together, but they do play very nicely with one another. Along with that, getting an additional mana off of casting our commander, whether it is a hard-cast or a Mutate-cast is always appreciated, especially when the costs for each are at five and seven respectively.

Another nice thing that a deck like this achieves is combating a key weakness of Companions. Once they are killed, the Companion is forced to go to the graveyard. They don't get to go back to their original zone like a Commander does. Nethroi helps us get around that downside by reanimating Umori from the yard with the rest of our goodies, allowing us access to our Companion whenever we want. This, in turn, will allow us to churn out more creatures from our hand, which can later be reanimated by Nethroi which will then get them back and then... well, I'm sure you get the picture!

As fun as it is to build around Umori, and despite how good Nethroi and Umori work together, our gooey friend does leave our hands tied, in a sense. We have plenty of creatures in this color combination that can act as spells, but we do miss out on the real deal. Newcomers Mythos of Nethroi and Eerie Ultimatum are standout Abzan spells from Ikoria that we can't utilize, despite their power. We also miss out on Commander mainstays like Sol Ring, Damnation, and Mirari's Wake.

While this does mean that our deck will end up being overall less powerful, it also means the synergy built into the deck will be cranked up to 11. We won't have board wipes or unconditional removal, but the way that the deck feeds into itself and snowballs will make up for a lack of raw power at many tables.

Nobles and Paupers Share the Same Fate

Using the combination of Nethroi and Umori forced me to scrutinize the kind of creatures we were including and what kind of strategy we were looking to build around. In EDHREC's average list, we had big haymakers like Sheoldred, Whispering One and Sun Titan, but neither of them are particularly synergistic with either our commander or Companion. On top of that, these big haymakers are actually less desirable in our deck. Nethroi can only bring back a finite amount of power each time it Mutates, so getting back one to two big creatures is often less valuable than getting back multiple smaller ones.

If we're looking to get full use out of both our commander and Companion, we should be looking for creatures with both lower power and lower CMC. This way we can either play multiple creatures in a turn with Umori, or bring a bunch back at once with Nethroi. We also need to find a way to win with these small creatures, as we don't have access to pump effects like Cathars' Crusade or Triumph of the Hordes.

When thinking about all of these requirements together, one strategy in particular came to mind and seemed like a perfect fit for this deck.

The Aristocrats Theme checks off all of our boxes. They are often lower CMC, they often have lower power, and through battles of attrition and cycles of reanimation, they can help us win games. The creatures from this theme are exactly what we want!

The most important thing to establish for this deck is win conditions. Cruel Celebrant, Poison-Tip Archer, and Corpse Knight perform this task admirably alongside Blood Artist, Syr Konrad, the Grim, and Zulaport Cutthroat, who were already in the original deck. While they aren't the only creatures we have that chip away at life totals, this is the bulk of them. All of these creatures work wonderfully in the deck, as our core strategy revolves about them "dancing" in and out of the yard. This ends up making those "small cuts" into a much bigger issue for our opponents.

Another important thing for this deck is value. We aren't running any noncreature spells in the deck, so we have to find card draw, ramp, and other effects elsewhere.

Farhaven Elf and Avacyn's Pilgrim join the other land fetchers and mana dorks in the deck as a way to accelerate our mana, as well as providing a small body to sacrifice when needed. Knight of Autumn, Ravenous Chupacabra and Qasali Pridemage follow suit, giving us powerful effects on small bodies, which is exactly what Nehtroi is asking for. We also have ways to take advantage of all these small creature dying. Grim Haruspex, Midnight Reaper, Pawn of Ulamog, and Pitiless Plunderer all reward us for throwing our creature into the bin, giving us the incentive to kill them off and bring them back later for even more value. Mentor of the Meek stands out amongst these effects, caring bout creatures entering the battlefield as opposed to dying, giving us the promise of a full hand, should we have excess mana.

Finally, we have the sacrifice outlets. It is hard to make out creatures jump out of the graveyard if we can't get them there in the first place, so these cards immensely help smooth the deck out. That's exactly the reason I added Krav, the Unredeemed, Woe Strider, and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician. All of these sac outlets are either free or low cost, while also providing an additional effect. In Krav and Yawgmoth's case, they provide bonus card advantage, while Woe Strider provides us with an extra body and the ability to scry. These three join Viscera Seer and Fiend Artisan as the core sacrifice outlets to help round out the deck.

Even after that, we are still missing a lot of creatures for our deck. We need to find ways to fill in our curve, and luckily, EDHREC has a theme great for situations like this....

A Nod to Pod

While I am not a creature combo player, The Pod Theme is one of my favorites on the site. There are 16 different color combinations to choose from in this category, and each of them will display the most common cards at each CMC. Since we're looking for cards that would slot into specific spots on our curve, we can use this theme to easily fill out our deck! We won't be using this theme for creature combos like strict pod decks would, but that doesn't mean the theme is off-limits to us!

Once again, we're going to start off this theme with our win conditions, since I consider them the most important part, and I like hammering them down from the beginning.

We have four in total from the Pod Theme, and they all function on a different axis from the ones in the Aristocrats section. They are: Avenger of Zendikar, Champion of Lambholt, Craterhoof Behemoth, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. All of these focus on pushing through combat damage in some way. Whether it is through producing extra bodies that can grow, thanks to Avenger, making our creatures nearly unblockable with Champion, or simply pumping up our junky creatures into a menacing army with Elesh Norn or Craterhoof, they all put the table in a pickle in some way and brings the game close to its conclusion. These work well with our goal of raising an army of small, cheap creatures, and gives us another way to win aside from Blood Artist triggers.

Next, we have the mana producers from this section. Fyndhorn Elves, Incubation Druid, and Springbloom Druid function the same was the dorks from the theme above; they accelerate us early and become fodder for us late game. Then, in terms of spell-like creatures, we have a lot of fantastic pickups here. Bane of Progress is a no-downside board wipe for artifacts and enchantments, allowing us to break all the toys on the table in a single blow. Gravebreaker Lamia tutors a card into our graveyard to reanimate, while Recruiter of the Guard tutors us a small creature, like an aristocrat, directly into our hand. Lastly, the two Spirits, Selfless Spirit and Remorseful Cleric, help protect our board and keep opposing graveyard decks under control, while synergizing with all of our "on death" effects when they sacrifice themselves.

The last two cards from this theme are Beast Whisperer, and Izoni, Thousand-Eyed. Beast Whisperer does a fantastic Mentor of the Meek impression. While Beast Whisperer won't trigger when we reanimate creatures, it will count the first time we actually cast them. Also, thanks to our creature density, casting one creature gives us an incredibly high chance to draw into another one, letting us chain them together. Izoni, on the other hand, provides another sacrifice outlet, which provides us with a small life bump and card draw. Let's not forget that she also can provide an incredible number of bodies that can put even an Avenger of Zendikar to shame. In Nethroi, it is important to look for cards that have "hidden stats" like Golgari Grave-Troll, Bane of Progress, and Izoni. Low-power creatures that come with bonus stats or other effects are incredible in this deck, and Izoni is no exception.

The End of All

Before we wrap up this article, there are a couple more cards I wish to touch on that weren't found on EDHREC's Theme pages. Some of these in particular are what I consider the most important cards for any Nethroi deck. Yes, yes, I added the usual, highly synergistic suspects like Mire Triton and Falkenrath Noble, but they aren't the cards I am talking about.

Our deck does not require a lot of Mutate to function. In fact, I was very close to cutting the mechanic from the deck all together. Mutate creatures don't provide enter-the-battlefield effects, and often simply function as big Auras for our dorky creatures. That isn't to say they're bad, but in our deck, they aren't necessary. We'd much rather utilize Nethroi to Mutate onto other creatures. With this thinking, I wanted to see if there were ways to maximize how often our Apex could Mutate.

What I came up with were cards like Jeskai Barricade, Stonecloaker, Temur Sabertooth, and Whitemane Lion. These creatures can provide a multitude of roles, from saving key creatures to adding surprise bodies to the board, or more importantly, immediately bouncing Nethroi back to our hand when we reanimate them. All of these, aside from Sabertooth, have low power, and can easily be tacked onto a group reanimation, especially Jeskai Barricade. Despite its marginally high power, Temur Sabertooth is included in the deck because of its incredible versatility and ability to save creatures and survive board wipes. It's basically green's version of Deadeye Navigator.

I see these as the most important effects in the deck, as they allow us to continue reanimating each turn, since Nethroi will always be safe in our hand. This makes the deck incredibly resilient and also allows Nethroi to dodge commander tax, since it will simply be moving from the battlefield to our hand and back again. This forces our opponents to interact with us at instant speed, making it quite hard to stop us when we get a loop going.

While I am not the biggest fan of Companion, I am definitely a fan of Nethroi. The ability to turn a creature into a 5/5 creature with deathtouch and lifelink - while also reanimating a huge group of creatures - is awesome, and it gives our Apex a huge amount of versatility. At time of writing, Nethroi is the most built commander from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and already has eight themes to its name, so I'm obviously not the only person who is infatuated with it.

I like Nethroi, I like Aristocrats, and I like Abzan, so this deck has been an absolute pleasure to build despite the initial hiccups. If there was any issue with this deck, I think it would be that 64 creatures still isn't enough for us, and if I could fit in more, I would!

As always, if you’d like to reach me I’m quite active on Twitter (@thejesguy), where you can always hit me up for Magic- or Jeskai-related shenanigans 24/7. If you have any comments, questions, concerns, or anything else of the sort, please don’t hesitate to leave them below or get in touch! Stay safe, wash your hands, and I’ll see you next week, friends!

Archetune-Up The Original Aristocat

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Commander (1)
Companion (1)
Creatures (63)
Lands (36)

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Angelo is a Connecticut resident who started playing Magic during Return to Ravnica, and has made it his mission to play Jeskai in every format possible. Along with Commander, he loves Limited, Cube, and Modern, and will always put his trust in counterspells over creatures. He is still hurt by Sphinx's Revelation's rotation out of Standard.

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