Tom takes a look at the Mind Flayarrrs Commander Precon deck, and has some suggestions for how to give it a bit of an upgrade!
Many of the legendary creatures in the upcoming Commander Legends: Baldur’s Gate are designed to lovingly evoke famous characters and companions from the namesake video games.
But today’s precon commander is a little different! Starting life as simply a zany one-off encounter in the massive Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage mega-adventure, Captain N’ghathrod gave WotC designer Ken Nagle a memorable, tentacled face for a classic “glue two themes together” Commander card!
So, if you’re a fan of mill, Pirates, Horrors, or menacing your opponents’ with their own reanimated creatures, make sure you read on and pick my brain on how to get the Mind Flayarrrs precon ready for a maiden voyage!
I’M GONNA CALL YOU “BRAINBEARD”
The designated Master and Commander of this precon deck is the Illithid (Mind Flayer) N’ghathrod, a brain-eating space pirate who became stranded in the Forgotten Realms when its ship was stolen by the meddling archmage Halaster. Not the most elaborate backstory, but it’s certainly not dull! I’ll also treat you to one more line from N’ghathrod’s wiki entry, just because.
Perfect, no notes. Okay, onto the actual deckbuilding.
THE HORRORS BEYOND THE STARRRS
I noted in my New Capenna Commander reviews that those precons seem more one-note in their focus on supporting a specific commander. Mind Flayarrrs doesn’t so much buck that trend as it passively benefits from N’ghathrod’s multi-faceted design. As a pirate, it represents the triad of UB creature types (Pirates, Rogues and Ninjas) which are associated strongly with tempo decks, stealing cards – and since at least Zendikar Rising, with mill.
But as a mind flayer, N’ghathrod also brings support for the more classic flavor representation of milling – destruction of sanity brought on by mental assault, or by witnessing horrors better left unseen!
As a result, N’ghathrod is equally supportive of generic blue-based mill, modern combat-centric tempo with Rogues, card-stealing synergies and straight-up Horror tribal. Better still, there’s no need to limit ourselves to just one of the above themes, since the creatures you want both enable and benefit from a mill plan. The Mind Flayarrrs deck definitely starts out with an emphasis on horrors, but it’s satisfying to have open seas ahead for upgrading our piratical precon!
N’GHATHROD’S BURIED TREASURES
Before we get into upgrading this deck though, let’s quickly review which new cards might be useful for upgrading your other decks! Aside from Captain N’ghathrod itself, there are nine cards available exclusively in this precon to consider:
A unique new form of instant-speed creature-based interaction. A recurring benefit of these “steal their stuff” effects is that they tend to scale well to your table’s power level, and at this cost it’s worth at least trying Aboleth Spawn in basically any blue deck!
The most unique part of this card is probably the Dragon Horror typing, and yet I do rather like the combination of board presence, card advantage and direct damage this brings to the table. The life loss triggers whenever any opposing permanent enters under your control, not just cards you played off Brainstealer Dragon, which is particularly relevant for this deck.
I’m a big fan of non-creature support cards for specific tribal themes, and re-usable Followed Footsteps for 2U is pretty excellent even with some limitations! In a Horror-heavy deck, this will be backbreaking for opponents who can’t fizzle or counter it.
The upside of any reanimation effect which can itself be cast from your graveyard is extremely high. Escape being re-usable means this could even be a deterministic combo finisher, as it’s not hard to imagine milling your whole deck and then reanimating a two–creature combo (or a humble Thoracle). Side note: corpse counters have no inherent function (unless you reanimate Scavenging Ghoul!) but they do help out cards like Storm of Forms.
Slightly ironic that just after New Capenna disappointed longtime Cephalid fans by changing their old look, we get a non-cephalid card which more-or-less brings that back! This will most often be used to turn your smaller Horrors into mana rocks for a turn, but there’s also fringe potential for random combos if you can copy something like Thousand-Year Elixir or Birthing Pod.
As with many cards from this precon, this Background functions as a terrifying tribal payoff while still offering solid value in non-tribal decks. Undying returns your creatures to play untapped, so if you’re able to hold this until you have a sizable board you can unleash a surprise all-in attack to kill one opponent and then reset your board (and triggers!) with whatever sacrifice outlet you have around.
Another unique support card for Horrors (and “tribal tribal” decks with Maskwood Nexus), this is costed after Mind’s Desire for a reason! The only limits on the power of this card are how many instants and sorceries are in graveyards, and how many Horrors you can tap to copy it – both numbers this precon can drive up pretty effortlessly.
A slightly more fair/sane option for generating value from an opponent’s milled cards in our preferred creature type. I expect some people will read this as slow and low-impact compared to Psionic Ritual; others will see “zero cost Pack Rat trigger” and break out in cold sweats.
This is both a much-needed way to generate cheap Horror bodies for Captain N’ghathrod, and our sneaky backup commander option when combined with Haunted One! Zellix shares almost all the same lines of synergy as N’ghathrod when played as commander, so if you feel like more early combat pressure is preferable to fun “steal their card” triggers, you can try it out without need for any other changes.
LET’S GET THIS SHIP WRIGHT
So, we’ve covered the cards you’ll get in the Mind Flayarrrs precon and the basic gameplay they offer – what’s next? As I touched on above, we can potentially choose from a wealth of different subthemes when upgrading the deck, or even combine them freely.
Most of my suggestions for cuts are the weaker, less synergistic Horrors from the base list. For one, there’s better Horrors out there you can stick in their place – but there’s also not a ton of reason to be this all-in on Horrors to start with. The biggest incentive to play them is that they mill on hit with N’ghathrod out – but most of these only mill for two or three cards a piece, and connecting with them is not always going to be a sure thing!
Far better to simply play more consistent sources of mill to ensure we’re flipping over some juicy targets for the Captain to reanimate each turn, and then use whatever we bring back to ramp up the pressure on life totals. You can also use the space to play generic goodstuff like free interaction, tutors, or two-card combos – but I’m going to use this guide to highlight some more specific enablers for our mill-and-reanimate strategy.
My last few cuts could be controversial, but as it stands this list benefits remarkably little from Leyline of Anticipation. Herald’s Horn and Reflections of Littjara are powerful tribal support cards, but unlike some they get worse very quickly when we start trimming away the bottom-rung Horrors.
<$1 UPGRADES: Geth, Lord of the Vault, Trepanation Blade, Ruin Crab, Thief of Sanity, Teferi’s Tutelage, Patient Rebuilding, Grimoire of the Dead, Shadow Kin, Runed Stalactite, Winds of Rebuke, Wrexial, the Risen Deep
MORE EXPENSIVE UPGRADES: Sword of Body and Mind, Bruvac the Grandiloquent, Fraying Sanity, Maskwood Nexus, Mindleech Mass, Altar of the Brood, Mesmeric Orb, Umbris, Fear Manifest, K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, Agent of Treachery
Because N’ghathrod’s reanimation ability doesn’t target as it’s placed on the stack, we’re still able to reanimate things milled by other “beginning of end step” triggers so long as we have them resolve first.
SET SAIL FOR STRANGER SEAS
This is honestly one of the more straightforward recent precons in how it wants to play, but just by nature decks which steal this many cards will generate a unique boardstate every game. It’s an easy recipe for crazy stories and weird interactions, and for many people that kind of novelty is just what Commander is all about.
I wouldn’t write N’ghathrod off as an exclusively casual commander choice either: the ability to reanimate creatures OR artifacts for zero mana every single turn is a lot of easy value! I wouldn’t be shocked if the most powerful evolution of this precon is one which overloads on efficient interaction and mill and applies pressure with just the Commander and stolen permanents while keeping the shields up at all times.
So, whether it’s miserly tempo-control or theme-heavy Horrors-and-Pirates, the Mind Flayarrrs deck has something to offer any Commander player. I wish all of you who pick up this precon a tentacular good time!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.