Ultra Budget Brews - Nethroi, Apex of Death

(Nethroi, Apex of Death | Art by Tomasz Jedruszek)

Nethroi's Our Boy

Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the monthly article series where we build entire EDH decks containing no card that costs more than $1 (commander excluded). Normally I run a poll for readers to choose the next commander we'll discuss in this series, but this time I decided to do something a bit different. Once Upon a Time, my brother had a Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck. It was the apple of his eye, and, over the course of years, he slowly tuned it in to a dream-crushing machine. It was in that difficult place of being unable to keep up with cEDH-level games, but it also was too powerful, consistent, and explosive for our playgroup. As a result, he eventually decommissioned it and used the parts to fuel various other projects.

I was of two minds about this. Part of me was glad to see it go, because there is a limit to how many times one person can be combo'd out by Saffi Eriksdotter and Co. in a lifetime, and I had reached that limit, but I was also sad to see it go, because it was something he did really enjoy. Soon after this, lockdown happened, and Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths came and went in a blur. We were discussing how to build a deck like Karador, but not Karador, and on a whim, I decided to check out the Abzan commanders page. Lo and behold, Nethroi, Apex of Death appeared. I had only the faintest memory of the card, and my brother had literally never heard of it. He wanted help building it on a budget, and that sounded right up my alley.

Our Commander


  • Mass reanimation is a powerful effect
  • Essentially has two modes
  • Deathtouch and lifelink are decent abilities
  • Has some sweet alternate art if you're into that sort of thing


  • Mutate only works with non-Humans
  • Only reanimating 10 power can feel a bit restrictive
  • Seven mana isn't what I'd call cheap
  • Cat Nightmare Beast feels redundant

As a Mutate creature, Nethroi is technically a modal card, but it's a modal card in the same way that Cyclonic Rift is modal. Yes, you can cast it for its cheaper cost, but you are only doing that if you are about to lose the game and don't have the mana available for the expensive mode. And my, what an expensive mode it is.

Paying seven mana to reanimate 10 power worth of creatures is already a solid deal. Checking out the Reanimator page shows us a number of mass reanimation spells that we can compare Nethroi with. Eerie Ultimatum has a much higher ceiling, but it's also much more difficult to cast. Living Death reanimates your entire graveyard, but does so at the cost of your current board while also allowing your opponents to do the same. Rise of the Dark Realms is $15 and nine mana. You get the picture. Nethroi may not be the most efficient and game-breaking option, but it's certainly one of the more interesting options to build around.

On top of all of that, reanimator decks are not known for being budget-friendly. Yes, you can certainly play cards like Rise from the Grave and Beacon of Unrest, but there is a reason these cards are as cheap as they are. Simply put, they are inefficient and there are more powerful (read: expensive) things you can be playing. Knowing all of this, what's a Nethroi deck look like on a budget? Let's find out.

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TCGPlayer cost: $29.81

The first thing that you'll notice is that we are playing 65 creatures and 36 lands. Yes, that's 101 cards and a million creatures. This is because I wanted to play Umori, the Collector as our Companion, and that requires us to play only a single nonland card type, and since Nethroi wants to reanimate creatures, the choice was simple. Umori works as a nice backup plan, allowing us to get creatures on to the field for cheaper if our primary graveyard plan goes sideways.

As previously mentioned, Nethroi comes with a baked-in restriction, only allowing us to reanimate 10 power worth of creatures. Even with that restriction, there are a lot of ways to win the game on the spot. If you are interested in that sort of thing, I'd recommend checking out Commander Spellbook. While it wouldn't necessarily be budget, check out the pages for Karmic Guide, Reveillark, and Viscera Seer to get some ideas about directions in which you could take this deck.

As it is, I'm less interested in the combo possibilities of Nethroi and more interested in trying to find a workaround for the 10 power limitation. The easiest way to do this is to fill our deck with creatures that have zero power, which would allow us to reanimate all of them.

This fella looks like a 0-power critter to me

When first theorycrafting a deck, I often find myself going to Scryfall and liberally using their advanced search option. If you're looking for a way to improve your deckbuilding and to find cards off the beaten path, this is one of the best ways to do so. Here is what my Scryfall search turned up. The first thing you may notice is that, along with cards that actually have 0 power, we also have cards with "*" for their power, with the * being equal to things like Elves in play, lands you control, or creatures in graveyards. Lord of Extinction is a great example of this. Its power is, * and if that * equaled 0 while it was in the graveyard, it would be one of the best cards in this deck. Sadly, Nethroi checks what the * equals on resolution, meaning basically anything with * for its power won't work.

The next thing that stood out to me are how many cards enter play as a 0/0, but receive a pile of +1/+1 counters, so instead of digging through a bunch of Walls and other *-powered creatures, I changed my Scryfall search to make things a bit more manageable and was rewarded with finding a bunch of Arcbound and Clockwork creatures. This is the exact level of jank I enjoy in a deck. It makes sense with what the deck wants to do (reanimate a whole pile of creatures), is something your opponents are unlikely to have ever played against, and, most importantly, is cheap.

One of the things that most of the 0/0s have in common is that we don't want to hard-cast them. We certainly will on occasion, but we'd prefer them to bypass our hand entirely on the way to the graveyard. This is the spot that Umori's Companion requirements makes most difficult. We will certainly miss gems like Mulch, Grisly Salvage, and Grapple with the Past, but cards like Skull Prophet, Satyr Wayfinder, and Glowspore Shaman will get the job done.

We've also included a host of Dredge cards. For those that may not be familiar with the keyword, Dredge allows you to replace an instance of drawing a card from your library by instead taking the Dredge card from your graveyard and putting it into your hand, milling a number of cards off the top of the library as a cost. It's one of the most broken mechanics of all time, and we're happy to be running every Dredge card we can get our hands on.

If you don't believe me about Dredge being absolutely busted, don't just take my word for it. This quote is from an article series that Mark Rosewater does called the 'Storm Scale', which you can find here. It's pretty interesting stuff.

We run a few Mutate cards (Gemrazer and Migratory Greathorn, as Nethroi triggers whenever it Mutates, allowing us to retrigger Nethroi when it's still on the battlefield. Typically, the easiest ways to ramp in EDH are with noncreature cards, namely artifacts and sorceries, but given the restrictions of our deck, we had to find creatures to fill in these gaps. Sakura-Tribe Elder is one of the premier staples of the format and was an easy inclusion. Springbloom Druid is Harrow: the Creature'ing, and Farhaven Elf does a decent Farseek impression. We also added in a number of mana dorks (Elvish Mystic and friends, Copper Myr, Leaden Myr) to help us ramp into our end game quicker.

Every EDH deck needs ways to interact with and remove problematic cards, and, thankfully, creatures have been doing this well for a while now. Reclamation Sage and Acidic Slime are commonly played, while Dirge Bat, Sawtusk Demolisher, and Necroplasm are much less so. Our creature-only restriction leaves us short on board wipes, but every deck has some weakness, and this is ours.

Notable Inclusions

Realm Seekers

In an average use case, the scientific term to describe the size of Realm Seekers is "Ginormous". It starts as a 0/0, which makes this a perfect fit with Nethroi, and it even has an ability that allows us to turn all of those counters into any land in our deck. Is this going to spend a lot of its time getting chump blocked? Yes, but we'll have a threat that requires opponents to find an answer or risk getting bludgeoned into paste.

Custodi Soulbinders

We're hoping to reanimate this with Nethroi, turning it in to a 15+ power creature, but unlike many of our other creatures, this will be played from our hand at least some amount of the time because it counts creatures our opponents control as well. While mana-intensive, this can help stabilize the board all by itself, making an army of 1/1 fliers. 1/1 fliers may not seem terribly impactful at first glance, but ask anyone who's played with or against a Bitterblossom, and they'll tell you exactly how dangerous they can be. No, this isn't Bitterblossom, but it's not not Bitterblossom, either.

Silverglade Pathfinder

The cards that set EDH apart from other formats are ramp cards. Sure, in other formats, you have some decks that play Cultivate, Primeval Titan, and various mana dorks, but in EDH decks, every single deck has to have a way to ramp to keep up with the table. Sure, your friend Bryan built an incredibly aggressive Boros deck that never ramps and will completely run the table over once every couple of nights, but that's the exception that proves the rule. Silverglade Pathfinder helps fill that gap in our deck while also providing a way to dump specific creatures into the graveyard for Nethroi. It's a perfect fit in this deck, and since it's only registered in 313 decks, it scratches that hipster itch I'm always battling.

Renata, Called to the Hunt

This synergizes well with all of the Clockwork and Modular cards we have running around; really, what creature isn't better with a +1/+1 counter on it? My favorite card to pair this with is Noosegraf Mob, turning a 5/5 that eventually makes five 2/2s into a 6/6 that eventually makes six 3/3s. Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager also greatly appreciates this card's contributions to the cause.

Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

If you want to know exactly how deep Golgari's legendary creature pool is, at the time of writing, Izoni is the 14th most popular commander in the color combination (with Dina, Soul Steeper, Gyome, Master Chef, and Willowdusk, Essence Seer rapidly catching up). If this was in any other color combination, it would almost certainly be a top 10 commander. It plays with the graveyard, it makes tokens, it's a sacrifice outlet, and it draws cards. While the player base at large may not be interested in playing with this card, we certainly are, and will utilize it to great effect. This isn't exactly a backup commander, but it gives us a way to win if Nethroi has become prohibitively expensive or has been neutralized in some other fashion.

Notable Exclusions

As always, these are the cards I'd look to add if I weren't concerned with a strict budget limitation, wanted to up the power of the deck, or if I had easy access to a copy.

Polukranos Unchained

When I decided on this deck's theme, this was the literal first card I added to the deck. I later discovered that it's not as cheap as I thought, and sadly it was left on the cutting room floor. If you're looking for upgrades, it's ready to Escape from the cutting floor with a bunch of counters on it, angrily fighting anything you're in the mood to throw down with.

Kalonian Hydra

Dear whichever WotC employee has been given the enviable task of following all of my articles,

Hi. It's been a long time since you've reprinted Kalonian Hydra. In fact, the last real printing of this stompy fella was all the way back in Commander 2016. Yes, it was printed in Commander Anthologies, and is a card on The List, but you and I both know that those don't really count. Listen, I just want to put a bunch of dice on my creatures and not have to pay $20 to do so. Could you help me out with that? Thanks.



Stitcher's Supplier

If you have cards from Core Set 2021, you should check to see if you have any of these laying around, because they're $5. This is the best creature-enabler for graveyard strategies, mostly because it costs one mana and can trigger twice. This is a boring upgrade, but it's a powerful one.

Golgari Grave-Troll

As mentioned above, Dredge is a great mechanic, and Golgari Grave-Troll happens to be the best of the cards featuring the mechanic (fine, Life from the Loam is pretty good, too). Every once in a while, you'll play this with a stacked graveyard and be rewarded with a large, stompy critter, but really you're hoping to have this in the yard ASAP so that you can keep the mill train rolling. It's not a great Nethroi reanimation target, but is one of the best Nethroi-enablers.

Underrealm Lich

Tacking on "mill two cards" to every instance of card draw is the perfect fit for this deck. Even better, this is difficult to remove because of its activated ability, allowing us to dodge most non-exile-based removal. It'll simply sit on the battlefield, passively accruing value, and eventually help win the game. You can't ask for much more than that.

End Step

What do you think of the deck? Is there another direction you would have gone with it? Was the Companion restriction too harsh, or do you think it leads to an interesting and powerful deck? Let me know below, and thanks for reading. Until next time!

Andrew is a life-long gamer and has been playing Magic since 2013. He works as an ASL interpreter, enjoys running, and sitting on his porch reading, while simultaneously silently judging his neighbors. He lives in Joplin, MO with his wife.

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