This week, I preview a card that serves up a lot of questions. We'll spend the article answering as many as possible.
QUESTION #1: What the heck is a nephilim?
We contracted writers don't see the art from the preview cards until they go up on the site, so I think we'll need to wait on this one for magicthegathering.com flavor-master Matt Cavotta to weigh in.
QUESTION #2: So what's up with the yore-tilling?
To till means to cultivate; and yore refers to times past. So put it all together, and you have a giant capable of cultivating things that have come before.
QUESTION #3: All right, enough about the title. So is Wizards serious about this casting cost?
Totally serious. So serious, in fact, that there are four more just like this guy. Well, not exactly like him, but similar to him. I'll bet you can't guess their casting costs!
QUESTION #4: When exactly does the triggered ability happen?
It's a good idea to take the time to understand how combat works before you try to make this creature work. Put into plain English for newer players, combat breaks down into attacking, blocking, and damage. (Yes, there's more to it than that. Stow it for now.) First you move into your combat step, during which time you can use instants and abilities. Next, you declare attackers. Then you can have instants and abilities happen again. Then comes blocking, with the same interval. Then you come to damage, which you assign and then put on the stack (giving another pause for instants and abilities), and then the damage resolves.
The Nephilim ability happens as soon as you declare the Nephilim as an attacker. Boom, it's attacking, you put the triggered ability on the stack – including your choice of target for exhuming. Players can put other instants and abilities on the stack in response (for example, they might use a Withered Wretch to get rid of the creature you're trying to bring out of the graveyard). If your target is still around when the ability resolves, you just earned yourself another attacker. Woo-hoo!
Then, you continue with combat – another chance to put instants and abilities out there. For example, you might decide to Terminate a potential blocker before it can get in the way of either your Nephilim or his new friend.
QUESTION #5: So, what if I want to use this in a Ninja deck?
You could do this, but it doesn't necessarily add much – and again you need to time everything correctly. Assume you have an Eager Cadet in the graveyard, a Ninja of the Deep Hours in your hand, the Nephilim in play, and enough mana available to play the Ninja's ability.
Attack with the Nephilim. Its ability triggers, and you bring the amazing Cadet back to life. Your opponent cannot withstand this onslaught – they cower before the 2/2 and 1/1 charging at them. No blockers declared!
Now comes the ninja part of combat, where you pull back one of your attackers to your hand (probably the Cadet, unless you want to show off the fact that you can still pay four colors for a 2/2 whenever you like) and replace it with the ninja. Congratulations – you've come up with a happy little ability in both of the key steps of the combat phase. You're a complete nerd.
QUESTION #6. No, a complete nerd would use one Nephilim to bring out another Nephilim. Can I do this?
Ugh. How nerdy! Yes, you can do this. But bear in mind that if you bring one Yore-Tiller Nephilim to bring out another Yore-Tiller Nephilim, the second one does not enjoy its triggered ability – it comes into play already attacking. So no yore-tillin' chains, circles, or chorus lines for you, buddy.
QUESTION #7: You never talk about strategy. Will you give me some strategy?
Maybe. Ask later.
QUESTION #8: If the Nephilim brings back a Flametongue Kavu, do I still get the comes-into play ability?
Yes. The only thing unusual about what the Nephilim does is that it brings out the creature already attacking, without you having to pay anything for it. Everything else, including comes-into-play abilities, happens normally.
QUESTION #9: If there's a Portcullis out, and the Nephilim is one of two creatures already in play, does the revived creature get to stay in play since it's really already attacking?
No. It comes into play attacking, sees a Portcullis and freaks out, leaving the battlefield and standing behind a large, annoying gate. Note that comes-into-play abilities will still trigger (and perhaps you might even find a way to make the Nephilim work together with the Portcullis and comes-into-play creatures)!
QUESTION #10: Oooooh, you're talking about strategy now, aren't you? Will you give me some tips? Huh huh huh?
Yes, I will. Bear in mind that the suggestions I'm about to make are the only ways you can possibly play this card. (Okay, not really. But I had a reader complain last week because I was "giving people ideas" about how to play preview cards, and I just had to tweak him. Giving people ideas! Gracious! You know how teenagers can be when they get an idea in their heads!)
QUESTION #11: So, um, the strategy?
Right. Well, there are three basic duties for the owner/controller of a Nephilim:
1) Getting it into play with a tough casting cost;
2) Getting it to attack more than once without dying; and
3) Getting it to bring out cool things;
QUESTION #12: All right, let's line 'em up and knock 'em down. How on earth do you get this into play? I mean, the one color it doesn't have is Green, the mana-fixing color!
True enough. This nephilim is particularly difficult to play outright, since you probably didn't play Harrow the turn before to get to . For my money, the most efficient way if you're restricted to recent (say, Standard-legal) cards is to blend the two obvious Ravnica guilds – Boros and Dimir – and use their mana tools. Boros Garrison and Dimir Aqueduct, and/or Boros Signet and Dimir Signet, represent fairly simple two-card combinations that can get you the four colors you need without tons of hassle.
This system isn't perfect – you still have to get three very precise cards (the two mana sources and the Nephilim itself), and some probability geek will be happy to run the numbers and tell you it's not quite 100 percent that you'll get this every game by turn 4. But if you're devoted to the idea of casting this card outright and don't have a lot of fancy old-school (or new-school) dual lands, you don't have to give up hope.
You might also want to take a look at the decent artifact mana fixers lurking around in Ravnica, Mirrodin, and Invasion block. Each of these blocks took a little effort to provide players with common and uncommon fixers, so that we could take advantage of everything from domain to sunburst.
There are certainly unconventional ways to pay , as well – heck, even a Terraformer can pull it off (with a bit of extra effort, consisting primarily of three extra mana).
Of course, you don't have to pay the cost, if your deck is adept enough at putting things into play. With Sneak Attack, you can play a horrific creature like Nicol Bolas one turn through the Attack, let it die, and then bring the Nephilim out with the Attack the next turn – using the Nephilim's ability to bring Nichol back for a second swipe. When the Nephilim dies, the Nichol…stays in play! Hey, no one ever said the rejuvenated creature had to die, right? Aren't you clever.
QUESTION #13: So what if we want to keep this Nephilim around? It's only a 2/2! Wizards screwed us again!
Yes, they screwed you. Because they hate you. Yes, even Aaron. (In fact, he hates you even more than Rosewater does.) They don't want you to play the cards they make, because the corporate conspiracy dictates that – huh, wait, I got confused there. Thought I was on the message boards. Give me a sec…
…okay, feeling better. Wizards doesn't hate you. They gave you a 2/2 for four mana with a potentially ridiculous ability. All you have to do is keep up your end – keep this thing alive. That's not horribly difficult. You might start with simple equipment like No-Dachi, or a broad strategy like Bubble Matrix, or a nifty little trick like Delif's Cube. (Okay, the Cube wasn't amazing; but it fits the theme and if you get any attacker through once, it's not bad!) Notice that all three of my suggestions are artifacts – I think you want to keep most of your support cards colorless, so that you don't have mana problems with both your creatures and the means to keep them alive. Don't make the yore-tillin' life more difficult than it already is.
QUESTION #14: What sort of cool creatures should we play with this?
You can also take the tack of "good combat damage" – expect the creature you bring out to do something devastating if and when it hits. Stuff like Blinding Angel, Dragon Mage, or Dromar, the Banisher may be your cup of tea.
A third option? Searchers. These are a subset of the comes-into-play crowd. Having an Avarax come into play from your hand and attack is nice, since it has haste and finds a buddy. But then, even if they kill it, attacking with the Nephilim later means you get that Avarax back into play, finding buddy #2 (or #3, if buddy #1 already did its work). See also: Godo, Bandit Warlord. These may seem underpowered at first, but everything you can do to thin out your deck a bit and get useful cards in your hand or in play is a good thing.
Finally, you can just put good beef in there – something that will fly, or trample well, and distract a bit of attention from the 2/2 that keeps pulling these freaks out onto the battlefield. You don't have to be choosy or use a ton of money rares – good, efficient creatures are fine targets for the Nephilim.
QUESTION #15: How will those cool creatures get in the graveyard?
If you want to be as obvious as Buried Alive, you certainly can. Black has a bunch of different ways to get key cards in the graveyard – and so does Blue, if you recall such gems as Fact or Fiction and Gifts Ungiven.
But there's also nothing wrong with an all-out assault strategy – something you don't often see in multiplayer formats, but which can work fine in duels or smaller group games. Just keep plugging at someone with creatures - and let them die if blocked. Use the Nephilim in the late game (when casting should be easier anyway) to bring back your precious resources.
QUESTION #16: What special considerations do we give a card like this in multiplayer formats?
You don't need to be a genius to realize that the more opponents you have, the more likely it is that one of them won't have enough defenders to deter the Nephilim. Swinging at the weak link is a perfectly legitimate multiplayer strategy, though it may seem a bit cruel at times.
Your group should be clear on what rules you will set on attacking multiple opponents. Our group is likely to allow the exhumed creature to attack a different opponent than the one the Nephilim is already attacking. That will add an additional spark to the card, and I believe the "official" multiplayer rules do allow this.
Another way this Nephilim shows strength in multiplayer formats – as I suggested during my answer to the last question, it gives you a way to bring back dead creatures with virtually no cost. This increases your chances in a longer game, and makes global destruction a bit less devastating to you. (On the other hand, mana denial is horrible for you. But with luck, your group has already gone through its "Isn't Armageddon Cool?" phase.)
QUESTION #17: What are effective measures against the Nephilim?
While I don't think many players should have a problem figuring out how to stop a 2/2 that only looks scary when it's pulling creatures out of graveyards, I'd like to suggest one or two creative solutions for those who want to move beyond Shock:
- Pacifism – this is one of those occasions where watching a creature just sit there can be sort of funny.
- Cleansing Beam – if you're playing a Green deck with a splash of Red, how cool would it be to do 2 damage to every creature on the board except your 1,000 Green saprolings?
- Spinal Embrace – target the huge creature that just came out of the graveyard, and block the Nephilim. Smash it to pieces, and then sack the blocker for life gain.
- Rushing River – against Nephilim decks where the creatures are too expensive to play by hand, bounce can be very effective.
QUESTION #18: Wait, are you leaving? You always end your articles after the countermeasures part!
That's true. I'm done. Enjoy your "mighty men", and remember: friends don't let friends drink and till yore!
Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for over seven years, and has been writing far longer than that. His new fantasy young adult novel, Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace, was co-written with his wife MaryJanice Davidson, is currently available from Berkley Books.