Mind Flayarrrs - Precon Primer
(Captain N'ghathrod Art by Andrey Kuzinskiy)
Little Shop of Horrors
Ahoy! Andy here from the Scrap Trawlers, where we do EDH on a budget. We’re stepping back to the long, long ago of 2022 to check out the precons from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. And today we’re demonstrating our Dimir Machinations with the Mind Flayarrrs deck, led by Captain N’ghathrod. It’s going to be…horrific.
If you want to watch the lights go out in your opponents’ eyes as they succumb to your horrors, and witness their sanity bleeding away while their libraries diminish, and also….pirates, then this precon is for you. The commander of your ship is Captain N’ghathrod (who I’ll simply refer to as “Captain” for this article, because I’ll lose it if I have to type out N’ghathrod 20 times), a 3/6 Horror Pirate that gives all of your Horror creatures menace. He also mills your opponents for each damage dealt to them by your Horrors in combat, and gives you something for free each turn from the stuff you milled.
Here’s the full decklist:
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As with all precons, you get a backup commander, and all the precons for Baldur’s Gate used the Choose a Background mechanic for their backups. For this deck, we’ve got the pairing of Zellix, Sanity Flayer and Haunted One. Zellix gives you a 1/1 Horror token whenever a player mills one or more creature cards, and also taps to mill a player, while the background plays into the creature type theme of giving creatures that share a type with your commander +2/+0 when it attacks, as well as Undying. Sadly, this doesn’t work with tokens, which are a crucial part of the deck. As per the rules, when a token is gone, it’s gone. So I’m not sure this is a great background for the deck. But it’s what we have.
There’s Some Horrors in this House
So what are we doing with this deck? With Captain in the lead, we’re hoping to drop a bunch of Horrors, slap our opponents’ faces with them, mill them for a bunch of cards, and plunder their graveyard booty (oh yeah). To do this, you’ll need a lot of Horrors, and the deck delivers on that front. There are 32 creatures in this deck, including Captain, and exactly 32 of them have the creature type of Horror. Are all of those Horrors good? LOL, no. Many of them serve no function in the deck beyond their creature type. But we’ll get to more on that later.
In addition to the creature cards, there are also several ways to make Horror tokens, including: Reflections of Littjara, Endless Evil, Zellix, Sanity Flayer, Wharf Infiltrator, and Uchuulon. Hell, even Dimir Keyrune is in the deck because it can be turned into an unblockable Horror for 2 mana.
The deck isn’t just relying on Captain to provide all the mill. That wouldn’t be very effective, and would make it difficult to achieve the alternate win con of decking your opponents. In addition to the already mentioned Zellix, we’ve also got Extract from Darkness, Fractured Sanity, Nemesis of Reason, Sewer Nemesis, and two of the best mill cards in the biz, Consuming Aberration and Mindcrank. Still not quite enough to get the full mill win, but I suppose that’s what upgrades are for (hint hint).
The deck also plays with the sub-theme of O.P.P. (yeah you know me). In addition to Captain’s graveyard larceny, we’ve also got Psionic Ritual, Memory Plunder, From the Catacombs, and Extract from Darkness. For a bit of icing on the cake, we’ve got the pain brought on by the new charmer Brainstealer Dragon.
The New Face of Horror
Now let’s turn our attention to the most exciting part of precons: the new cards! The new creatures are, of course, all Horrors. But not just; we’ve got a wizard, a fish, a dragon, and a crab ooze (a crooze?). Aboleth Spawn is one of those fun cards that can pull off some amazing things in the right pod, or be just a 2/3 with ward in others. But if you’re up against a blink deck, expect some fun shenanigans. Grell Philosopher is in the same boat. Sometimes you’ll be happy to just have a Sol Ring army, other times it won’t do much of anything. And once in a while the stars will align and you’ll get the abilities of something really fun, like a Steel Hellkite.
Brainstealer Dragon seems like a worse Etali, Primal Storm at first, because you have to pay for the stuff you exile. But it has flying, and, more importantly, you make your opponents lose life when you put their stuff into play. This works beautifully with Captain’s end of turn ability. Guiltfeeder also has a really cool life drain ability when it goes unblocked. And with both fear and the menace that Captain provides, it’s gonna be unblocked fairly often. If you’ve got that player milled enough, this Horror will march in and smooch your opponent with the kiss of death.
Sewer Nemesis and Uchuulon both have varying stats based on cards in graveyards or creatures on the field, respectively. Nemesis feels a little underwhelming with only milling one player one card for each spell they cast. Mathematically speaking, that’s probably only gonna be like 15 spells by the time you get it out. Uchuulon has a fun ability of copying itself at your end step if an opponent has a creature in their grave to exile. Look, it’s no Scute Swarm, but it’s trying, okay?
Now the noncreatures! Endless Evil, like Grell Philosopher, has some serious situational potential, and can really upend the game if you get it on the right creature. Think Avenger of Zendikar or Dockside Extortionist, and you’ll see what I’m getting at. And speaking of making copies, Psionic Ritual can be like the instant/sorcery version of Rise of the Dark Realms if you’ve got enough Horrors, or even just a bunch of creatures and a Maskwood Nexus, and some full graveyards. But there are definitely going to be times where this thing just sits dead in your hand. Risk/reward, and all that.
And last is From the Catacombs, a spell you can keep casting with its Escape cost to pull creatures out of graves. I think I prefer Beacon of Unrest, but that doesn’t mean this one isn’t without its merits.
What’s My Horrorscope (I’m a Leo)?
I gotta give this deck credit; they really stuck to their guns on the whole Horror thing; every single creature is a Horror. This is, unfortunately, to the deck’s detriment. Horrors haven’t been built up over time to be a powerful creature type with lots of cross-creature synergy and anthem effects, like Zombies, Angels, and Elves, among others, have. So to fill a deck with Horrors, you’ve gotta have a few stinkers in there. Low-impact cards like Phyrexian Rager and Dross Harvester are generally not great in Commander, but in this deck they’re okay. Many are only propped up to a “functional” status because of the commander, like Dauthi Horror and Dimir Keyrune. Was it a mistake to only use Horrors in the deck? Yeah, I think so. Because it misses out on creatures that could really make the deck powerful, like Syr Konrad, the Grim or Duskmantle Guildmage.
The deck has a respectable average mana value of 3.73, which is pretty low for precon. So mana-wise, the deck plays well with its 38 lands and 11 sources of ramp. But it does have some weak points. In particular, its removal package relies too much on creatures entering the battlefield, which means that there are very few cheap removal spells (Curtains’ Call can cost as little as 3 mana). The rest of the removal suite is creatures with 4+ mana values (Ravenous Chupacabra and Dark Hatchling) and expensive mass removal (In Garruk's Wake and Hex). So while you won’t have trouble casting spells, you will have trouble responding to threats without paying a lot of mana for it.
The other area you’re going to struggle with is card draw. With only 8 sources of card draw/advantage in the list, you’re really relying on the graveyard recursion aspect of the deck to get any kind of advantage over your opponents. Unfortunately graveyard recursion is simply not a reliable source of card advantage for most decks, and particularly not this one. With creature-heavy decks, more card draw is always crucial because you need to be able to recover from board wipes.
The MVPs of the deck are Nemesis of Reason and Consuming Aberration. Both of these provide reliable, large-scale milling. They’re also both lightning rods for removal spells, but if you can get them to stick, they’ll create an endless supply of goodies for Captain to yoink. For noncreature spells, Fractured Sanity and Mindcrank are the tops.
I’m the Captain Now
While this deck knows what it wants to do, it doesn’t do it very effectively.
Verdict: Skip it
Much like goad decks, the “mill and steal” strategy has a serious late-game problem, being that you lose what you stole from a player when that player dies (a player’s cards leave the game when they lose). This can come at a very inopportune time if you've only got someone else's creatures to defend yourself against an opponent who is going off, and the owner of those creatures gets knocked out. Unfortunately there’s no way to fix this, short of making token copies of stuff we steal. It’s just an inherent flaw in this commander.
Captain N’ghathrod has an interesting design, and I’m happy to see Horrors getting a commander, but he struggles to make a cohesive deck because he’s pulling you in two directions. One direction is a creature type-focused combat deck, and the other is a mill deck. Do the two work harmoniously? No, not really. Can they? That’s a great question, and one that I’m hoping to answer in my upgrade guide.
Speaking of which, keep your eyes peeled here for that, and other precon guides from your budget buddies in the Scrap Trawlers. Don’t forget to check out our other content on YouTube and Twitch. And remember to budget…before you buy it.