Commander Deck Tech: Explore 4 Ways to Win with Nicanzil

Deck tech and strategy guide to playing a cheap MTG Commander deck led by Nicanzil, Current Conductor

Commander Deck Tech: Explore 4 Ways to Win with Nicanzil

Commander is Magic: the Gathering’s most popular format today, and with access to virtually all cards in the game’s 30+ year history, you can either make a deck really expensive (and uber powerful), or actually spend very little and still make a highly competent and synergized deck.

Nicanzil Current Conductor is probably the best Explore-focused Commander in MTG.

Today’s deck tech features Nicanzil, Current Conductor. Nicanzil is a very specialized Commander, built around the Explore mechanic that has been seen mainly in the Ixalan plane where Merfolk are one of the major inhabitants. Naturally you’ll find lots of Merfolk in this deck as well, but there are also other Creature types. Each Explore reveals the top card of your Library, put the card into your Hand if it’s a Land, and leave it on top or in the Graveyard if it’s not a Land, but that gives the Exploring Creature a +1/+1 counter.

Full Deck List (Moxfield)

Colors: blue, green | Budget: $190 | Power Level: Low / Mid / High / Competitive

Why Did We Pick Nicanzil?

There are numerous, popular blue-green Merfolk that are considered a lot more powerful than Nicanzil. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca offers incredible value in a token-filled Battlefield. And there is Hakbal of the Surging Soul from Ixalan’s preconstructed deck which guarantees one or more Explore triggers each combat. Many (including us) would say that Hakbal is overall a stronger Commander in a deck focused on Explore.

However we do like giving lesser-known Legendary Creatures a space to shine and at the same time offer a fresh face to the Commander table. Nicanzil, Current Conductor also has a couple of benefits over other Merfolk Commander, specifically the lower casting cost and the ability to put Lands quickly onto the Battlefield.

The Gameplan: Explore & Ramp

With Nicanzil’s abilities, you’ll want to Explore as many times as possible in the early game. You’ll get value off Nicanzil, by either putting that Land you drew onto the Battlefield, or putting an additional +1/+1 counter on Nicanzil.

One of the best things about Nicanzil is the 2 Mana cost, enabling you to cast it early. If all goes to plan, you’ll be putting Lands onto the Battlefield a lot faster than your opponents, which means you can cast more spells, or protect your Creatures. There are 13 Creatures in the deck that Explore directly or indirectly, and there are non-Creature spells such as Enter the Unknown, Over the Edge, and Glowcap Lantern that can Explore as well.

Being a blue-green deck, tricky counter spells are always a given, combined with green’s ability to make Creatures bigger through +1/+1 counters. This deck has 15 Instants, a higher-than-average number, and perhaps only Storm and spell-slinging decks have more. This lets you interact a lot throughout the course of the game, and will keep your opponents second-guessing their moves. Nicanzil also provides a good range of options to win the game.

Ways to Win

There are a few ways to win. The first is by Commander or regular combat damage. As Nicanzil grows in size, it’s certainly possible to see a Power and Toughness of 12/13 or 21/22, if you are able to protect your Commander. The deck has very cheap ways to give Nicanzil a free hit in combat, such as Merfolk Sovereign, Rogue’s Passage or Winged Temple of Orazca (transformed from Hadana’s Climb). Even in a losing situation, all you need is one big hit from your Commander.

The second way is to take advantage of your higher Land count and turn them into Creatures. Use Tatyova, Steward of Types to make a permanent 3/3 Flyer whenever a Land enters under your control, or Jolrael, Voice of Zendikar to make another flyer each turn. You’ll still have to find a way through defenses, but having Flying Land Creatures do help in evading the enemy. As a late, late draw, Sylvan Awakening can surprise the opponent with a sudden attack of 2/2 Lands that can’t be destroyed. Don’t forget you’ll need 3 Lands to cast Awakening, so this is usually a good play when you have over 10 Lands on the Battlefield.

Lastly, we did include a couple of alternate win conditions that one can consider exploring (pun intended). There’s a single copy of Triumph of the Hordes that will give all your Creatures +1/+1, Trample and Infect. If you’ve amassed a sizeable army, Triumph will help in a final push since all it takes are 10 Poison counters for an opponent to lose. Again, you’ll want to draw this card really late in the game as it’ll do you no good unless the opponent has completely no blockers.

There’s also Simic Ascendancy, which adds a counter on itself whenever you place a +1/+1 counter on any of your Creatures. With lots of Explore triggers and other ways to add +1/+1 counters, it’s not inconceivable to hit 20 counters on Simic Ascendancy, and that’s where you automatically win the game on your Upkeep. This is not a reliable way to win as an opponent will often have a way to destroy it, and it does take some time to hit 20 counters. Use it when there’s an impasse on combat.

Weaknesses & How to Make Do

While Explore has been well received by players, there actually aren’t a whole lot of good choices to trigger an Explore. Most Explores come from very vanilla Creatures such as Merfolk Branchwalker and River Herald Scout. Even the Map tokens created by Sentinel of the Nameless City and introduced in the recent Lost Caverns of Ixalan set are not that great. You have to spend 1 Mana, sacrifice the Map and cannot be done as an Instant.

Being blue and green also means direct or mass removal of threats is hard to come by. This deck has excluded Cyclonic Rift due to budget constraints, but River’s Rebuke and Aetherize will have to do. A few counter spells are reserved to cancel out big spells, and then there’s Beast Within and Pongify to deal specifically against Commander threats.

Despite looking at a lot of cards through Explore, you might also find yourself running out of steam since Exploring a non-Land card doesn’t put it into your hand. That’s where certain draw effects from Kindred Discovery, Armorcraft Judge and Tatyova, Benthic Druid can help you replenish your hand.

Advice From Real Game Experience

Ideally, you’ll want your opening hand to have at least a blue and green Mana source each (to cast Nicanzil on turn 2), as well as another way to Explore on turn 3 to get the engine running. The more ways to Explore in the early game, the better. This is important because we’ve excluded standard Mana rocks Sol Ring and Arcane Signet because the Nicanzil should have the ability to ramp up Lands quickly.

Removal spells are at a premium so don’t use them at the first sign of danger. It’s also important to leave some Mana available to possible counter or protect any spells that want to kill your Creatures. Heroic Intervention and Inspiring Call will help against board wipes, but you can also counter them with Negate or Swan Song.

This deck can’t go for a quick kill, especially not against the entire table. Build up your board patiently with Creatures to serve as blockers, and wait for the right opportunity to swing a surprise attack with very beefy Nicanzil or one of the other winning strategies mentioned earlier. Good luck!

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