Building Like Bolas

Posted in How to Build on July 18, 2017

By Cassie LaBelle

Cassie LaBelle is a freelance writer. When she's not at her keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find her playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

Dear readers, I have a special treat for you today! After the God-Pharaoh's triumph on Amonkhet, I traveled great distances to seek his guidance on your behalf. Once I tracked Bolas down in his mediation realm, I asked the Horned One to let me in on the secrets of his success. How might we, his humble servants, best embody his majesty on the battlefield? What is the best way to sling spells as if we were the Elder Dragon Planeswalker himself?

Nicol Bolas caressed my forehead, and my mind shattered . . . with deck building possibilities! Now that I've been blessed with the God-Pharaoh's touch, I feel a burning desire to share everything I've learned about his glory and strength. Want to build decks like the great and powerful Bolas? Allow me to show you the way.

A Philosophy of Power

If you're going to build a deck that properly represents the essence of the God-Pharaoh's power, it's important that you develop a good understanding of how Nicol Bolas likes to operate. First, speed is not really a priority for Nicol Bolas. He's been alive for 25,000 years, and he'll undoubtedly exist for 25,000 more. Mortal fools may rush into battle unprepared, but Bolas sits back and waits for the right moment to strike. He doesn't care about being first—he just needs to be last.

Imminent Doom is a perfect example of the God-Pharaoh's commitment to patience. It doesn't look like much at first, and your opponent might roll their eyes smirk at you when you cast it. How short-sighted they are. Let them ignore the growing threat until it becomes too much for them to handle. By then, you'll have the game well in hand.

Second, Nicol Bolas always has a perfect and infallible plan. Since you don't possess the Elder Dragon's towering intellect, however, your own schemes may occasionally fail. This is acceptable, but only if you already have a back-up plan ready to go. Don't just think three or four turns ahead—think three or four games ahead. Battles may be lost, but the war rages on.

Exploiting the interaction between Gate to the Afterlife and God-Pharaoh's Gift is a great way to showcase this aspect of Bolas's personality. Gate to the Afterlife is a relatively unassuming play, but it will let you to fill your graveyard with all manner of terrifying creatures. Once you're satisfied with your crop of the dead, swing open the doors and unleash your unstoppable Zombie army.

Aether Revolt's Planar Bridge is another card that does a good job showcasing Bolas's long-term plans. Even though we don't have all the information about Bolas's meddling on Kaladesh yet, it's clearly part of some larger and more sinister scheme. Use this secret power to your advantage—especially since a Nicol Bolas deck should have a lot of massive, frightening permanents to fetch from your library.

Third, Nicol Bolas loves to play puppetmaster. On Alara, he manipulated the political climate on every shard until war was ready to break out. On Zendikar, he tricked a few foolish Planeswalkers into releasing the Eldrazi from their slumber. On Amonkhet, he twisted an entire plane into building him a vast army of undead.

If you're in a multiplayer game, you should try to pit your opponents against each other while you bide your time and gather strength. Crushing your enemies is fun, but sitting back as they tear each other to pieces (thanks to your devious political machinations) is a far greater prize.

By the same token, don't be afraid to enlist as many flunkies, minions, and cohorts as you need. Wiping a servant's mind to achieve perfect obedience is fine—Slave of Bolas is an auto-include here—but getting someone to ally with you in exchange for a taste of your power is even more delicious. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas makes for a reasonable henchman, of course, as does Razaketh, the Foulblooded. Don't forget about Augur of Bolas and Disciple of Bolas, too.

If you're lucky enough to open any of the Gods in Hour of Devastation, be certain to stick them in your deck as well. All three can be summoned with a combination of blue, black, and red mana, and their loyalty is without question. Don't forget to cackle with glee once your opponents realize that they are basically impossible to remove.

  • Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
  • Augur of Bolas
  • Disciple of Bolas
  • Razaketh, the Foulblooded
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Lastly, Nicol Bolas does not believe in humility. When it's time to strike, be certain that your opponent knows exactly who beat them and why. Bolas is the most powerful and glorious being in the Multiverse—don't let anyone forget it. Measured action is well and good, but sometimes it's important to let loose.

Showcasing this side of the God-Pharaoh's personality is one of the most fun parts of building a Bolas-themed deck. Amonkhet block is chock full of cards that prominently feature Nicol Bolas's monuments to his own greatness, including Faith of the Devoted, Approach of the Second Sun, Splendid Agony, Throne of the God-Pharaoh, Overwhelming Splendor, Eternal of Harsh Truths, Angel of the God-Pharaoh, and Survivors' Encampment. Not all of these cards will be right for every deck, but the more Bolas-horn art you can display, the better.

  • Faith of the Devoted
  • Approach of the Second Sun
  • Throne of the God-Pharaoh
  • Overwhelming Splendor
  • Eternal of Harsh Truths
  • Angel of the God-Pharaoh
  • Survivors' Encampment

Another way to explore Nicol Bolas's vanity is by casting big, splashy spells that will highlight his incredible grandiosity. Torment of Hailfire is my favorite of these from Hour of Devastation, but if you have any older cards, I'd recommend including Cruel Ultimatum and Wit's End. If you decide to play a five-color deck, Conflux is a must-add, too.

With these cards, the goal is to demoralize your opponents as thoroughly as possible. Their mouths should hang open, gobsmacked at your power. They thought they could beat you. They thought you weren't this big a threat. They were very, very wrong.

  • Torment of Hailfire
  • Cruel Ultimatum
  • Wit's End
  • Conflux

True Colors

Nicol Bolas knows more about blue, black, and red magic than every other mage in every other realm—combined. You can add green and white spells to your Bolas deck, but you should have a good reason doing so: gaining access to Conflux, for example, or recreating all five of Hour of Devastation's Hours at the expense of your opponents. Nicol Bolas isn't beyond using these colors when necessary, but he prefers the sheer power of blue, black, and red.

When selecting lands, feel free to channel your mana from any plane that tickles your fancy. Nicol Bolas has been all over the Multiverse—Dominaria, Alara, Tarkir, Zendikar, Kamigawa, Amonkhet, and beyond. If there's a place he hasn't graced with his presence, rest assured he'll get around to it sooner or later.

Personally, I'm a big fan of using the full-art lands from Hour of Devastation since they depict Amonkhet just moments before Bolas's latest triumph. I also love making my opponents stare at those massive, beautiful horns on Naktamun's far horizon. Aren't they glorious?

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Squashing the Gatewatch

Heads up: there's a crew of bumbling Planeswalkers out there who call themselves the Gatewatch. They act like they can come together and destroy you with the power of love or whatever, but they can't. Don't underestimate these do-gooders, but they're easy enough to destroy with Hour of Devastation's Defeat cycle.

I recommend reading the flavor text out loud when you cast each Defeat. These glorious Bolas quotes have been carefully crafted to demoralize the members of the Gatewatch crew in very personal and specific ways. Don't just eliminate these jokers—humiliate them.

  • Nissa's Defeat
  • Chandra's Defeat
  • Gideon's Defeat
  • Liliana's Defeat
  • Jace's Defeat

The Horned One Himself

If you do a good enough job embodying Nicol Bolas on the battlefield, he might honor you with a moment of his precious time. I highly recommend casting Dark Intimations beforehand, though. The God-Pharaoh's loyalty is limited, but you can increase it ahead of time by showing him just how far you're willing to go to carry out his plans.

When Nicol Bolas shows up, the time for being coy is over. Your playgroup is in Bolas's world now. This is culmination of your preparation, your patience, your scheming. Let it all out. Hold nothing back. The Second Sun has arrived, and nothing will stop you now. Nothing.

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