Tyranid Swarm precon upgrade guide

Tyranid Swarm Precon Upgrade Guide

Jason KrellCommander

It may seem like another wonderful day in the world of Magic: The Gathering’s Commander Community — yet there’s a new threat looming just beyond the horizon. With the Warhammer 40k Commander precons set to arrive at the beginning of October, the game is primed for an invasion. And with this Tyranid Swarm upgrade guide, players will have everything they need to overrun their opponents.

Like in 40k itself, the Tyranids represent a relentless and overwhelming force meant to gum up the board with many creatures big and small, but all dangerous. The precon itself also already comes with dozens of new, nutty cards that make this deck a danger right out of the box — but they slot in great to plenty of other lists, too.

At the same time, there’s somehow still room to go even bigger and harder with some upgrades. Obviously the results will depend on your budget, but we’ll show you plenty of options at various price points that can turn your attack efforts into an extinction event.


The Swarmlord cares about counters, and the deck plenty of ways to make use of them.

Now, Tyranid Swarm may not look too scary at face value because The Swarmlord is an unassuming leader of this monstrous horde. While card draw in the Command Zone and a scaling body is nothing to scoff at, it starts off at a hefty six mana. 

Sure, the deck is in Temur, so there’s plenty of opportunities to ramp. However, the best part about the Swarmlord is the deck doesn’t really need him to function. Cards like Tyranid Prime and Clamavus, which help your creatures bigger just for existing, can come down early as you amass a board and encroach on your opponents. Then, when you’re gassed out and in danger of losing everything you’ve built to a board wipe, you can cast the Swarmlord as an insurance policy against the worst.

Magus Lucea Kane is the perfect payoff for your big mana X spells.

That being said, Magus Lucea Kane is the really insane Commander for this deck. Like The Swarmlord, she grows creatures over time. However, her mana generating ability (which already offers crazy acceleration in the Command Zone) also copies your massive spells as you cast them. That means you’re going from one big threat every turn to two, and you can spend even more mana to make creatures bigger in the process.

Kane does need you to cast spells with X in the mana cost, but that’s basically half the non-land cards in the deck thanks to Ravenous. The new mechanic mostly puts counters on your creatures in scaling amounts, but if you pay at least five mana you also get to draw a card. 

Getting to five shouldn’t be a problem, either thanks to cards like Nexos and Atalan Jackal. The former simply doubles the mana generation of your basics when casting X spells (at the cost of colorless mana), letting you punch way above your usual station in a game. And Atalan Jackal is just a great early creature who aggressively ramps more lands out with every attack. It won’t take long for your opponents to put up blockers, but remember that your whole deck can make creatures bigger. You’ll find a way through.

These cards will be powerful in almost any circumstance when playing Tyranid Swarm.

Outside of Commanders, there are simply some incredibly powerful cards that can change the entire shape of the game at a moment’s notice. Screamer-Killer will staple direct damage onto every creature you cast that has five or more power, and Winged Hive Tyrant just lets you blow out opponents with no warning. Haste lets you attack unexpectedly and Flying lets you sail right past any blockers as you knock their controller out of the game.

Then there’s The First Tyrannic War, a saga that lets you cheat a creature out for free on cast — and they also come with a potentially obscene amount of tokens if there’s an X in their casting cost. But after that, you simply get to pick a creature and double each kind of counter on them. 

There are already some cheeky combos you could pull off by turning certain permanents into creatures, but just making a huge attacker is often going to get the job done. And you get to double those counters twice, so…

Most of the other potential commanders outside the full Temur identity are a little simple for my liking, Ghyrson Starn will at least make Tim players the world over rejoice. 

For those who don’t know, Tim is a nickname for Prodigal Sorcerer, an old 1/1 that taps to deal one damage to any target. Wizards of the Coast has printed many creatures with that general ability across blue and red throughout the years, and lots of players enjoy building within this narrow archetype. Usually, you find ways to infinitely untap your Tim, dealing infinite damage and winning the game.

Well, now you can just go for value with Ghyrson, who turns every instance of one damage into three. This means players aren’t forced to go infinite and can simply utilize otherwise seemingly weak effects for huge damage over time (hello Cavalcade of Calamity).


Out of the box, Tyranid Swarm will give you an aggressive deck that applies pressure to the table in increasing amounts. You’ll simply vomit out as many creatures as possible, hit everyone you can and create a clock that they have to answer.

Board wipes will be a bit of a problem, but there are ways to rebuild in the precon. Just focus on mustering up as much mana as possible and coming back harder each time your opponents try to knock you down.

The other good thing about this deck is that it can go as wide as it goes tall, letting you adapt to the situation at hand. While tokens start out small, there are often ways to buff them up until they’re just as scary as a few, massive attackers. 

Also, the abundance of spells with X in their mana value means you can be flexible with holding up mana or casting multiple spells in a single turn. More than anything, making the most of this adaptability will get you the win.

While this precon may have quite a bit of depth, it’s still going to be effective in the hands of a brand new player. All of the 40k Commander decks are potent and look like a blast, but Tyranid Swarm by far looks like the best time you could be having with 40k cards.


As for upgrading the deck, you have a lot of options. +1/+1 counters is an archetype as old as Magic itself, so it’s incredibly supported. However, such an abundance of options and directions means it’s pretty hard to just plop an upgraded list down and say “here you go, play this.” Besides, while sticking to a tight budget is definitely the play if your resources are limited, there are too many fearsome cards in these colors to limit everyone’s considerations.

So, instead of presenting a full list, I’ll just give you a whole smattering of cards broken down by archetype and let you decide where to take things. And after that, I’ll list some cards from the precon that I’d consider cutting in favor of better options.

More counters

Getting more counters onto your creatures will only make your deck stronger.

Tyranid Swarm runs on +1/+1 counters, and there are a lot of ways you can ratchet that up to 11. Cards like Defiler of Vigor will grow your entire board and make your creatures cheaper in the process while Forgotten Ancient will just casually grow in the background and plop all its value onto an even better attacker. 

Then there are plenty of other, good X cost creatures — like Hydroid Krasis and Apocalypse Hydra. Really hard to go wrong with any of them. And speaking of X spells, Unbound Flourishing is probably the one card you almost must add to the deck if you’re upgrading. It makes all your Ravenous creatures even more ferocious. 

Otherwise, you can always go the proliferate route with cards like Evolution Sage, Inexorable Tide and Karn’s Bastion. They require you to already have creatures with counters on them to work, but they can keep your snowball growing until you reach critical mass.

Hit fast, hit hard

Trample and Haste will help you close out games before anyone can stop you.

Of course, all the size in the world won’t help if you can’t get into the red zone on a regular basis. Haste and Trample are a Tyranid’s best friend, and while some creatures come with it naturally, we can always make sure the whole swarm can share in the love. 

Cards like Surrak Dragonclaw, Kessig Wolf Run and Herald of Secret Streams can all help you connect with your attackers. And then Temur Ascendancy or Rhythm of the Wild will let even your most recently cast creatures participate in combat (with some upside, too).

Finally, cards like Overwhelming Stampede can just win you the game if you have big enough creatures. There are a lot of cards like it, but at least run one of them.

Use your size

You can make mana, draw cards and even win the game, all incidentally, by making big creatures.

There is more to +1/+1 counter than attacking, though. With cards like Selvala, Heart of the Wilds and Rishkar, Peema Renegade, you can turn your creatures into additional sources of mana, further fueling your growing swarm.

You can also draw an incredible amount of new cards with Return of the Wildspeaker, Momentous Fall, Garruk’s Uprising and Rishkar’s Expertise

Also, with the amount of +1/+1 counters this deck sneezes out without even trying, Simic Ascendancy can just threaten a game win aggressively early. Then you can just sort of win by watching from behind a wall of insurmountable creatures.

The ‘good stuff

When you can spend the money, sometimes the obvious upgrades are the best.

Then, of course, there are the Temur staples — powerful (and often expensive) cards that can slot into almost any deck. Cyclonic Rift and Heroic Intervention let you control the board better while The Great Henge does everything you could possibly want in a game of Commander.

Doubling Season and Vorinclex make your deck even more nutty, and there are a whole suite of powerful counterspells and redicting effects (Mana Drain is particularly good, here) that will ensure your game plan goes off without a hitch.

And of course, it never hurts to upgrade your mana base with some Shock Lands or Fetches. If your lands are as flexible as your creatures, the whole deck should sing (a horrifying dirge of destruction for your opponents).

Didn’t make the cut

There are a lot of good cards in the deck, but some have to be the first to go.

There are other mediocre cards in Tyranid Swarm than just the ones I’m about to talk about, and most of the upgrades I mentioned would be better than them. However, it’s really about which effects you like best at a certain point. The main cards I want to point out are the ones that really just feel like a waste of space.

To start, there aren’t enough naturally hasty creatures in the deck to make Deathleaper, Terror Weapon worth it. Sure, we’re adding more ways to get Haste and Double Strike for a turn is hot. However, it requires more set up than you need.

Meanwhile, cards like Venomthrope, Trygon Prime and Lictor just don’t do enough to justify inclusion. Genestealer Locus and Goliath Truck are similarly boring. Aetherize is OK, but you rarely want to hold open your mana to protect yourself from a single opponent’s attack when you could just cast more, scary spells instead. 

Finally, Tyranid Invasion isn’t bad. You get a number of decently sized tokens. However, it falls off hard as your opponents start to drop, making it a dead card later in the game. Since it doesn’t do quite enough early, there are probably better options.

End step

For now, that’s everything you need to know. Commander, as I’m sure you’re aware, is a format always changing as new cards come out. But given what we have available right now, you can definitely turn this already sweet deck into a frightening list for your opponents with only a little extra work.