Commander Spotlight: Dune-Brood Nephilim

Watching the mind of Magic designers at work can be enlightening. You may not always agree with their creative choices, but there usually is a logical thought process to how they reached that point. It was decided a while back to significantly scale back the Kicker mechanic, for instance, because it was pointed out that the mechanic was way too broad. Magic R&D has been vocal about their issues with the too-encompassing scope of Kicker for years, highlighted by the fact that the last time we saw it was during the original Zendikar block.

Their belief is that the mechanic is too much of a catch-all and limits their ability to try other mechanics in different ways. On the one hand, this meant that there is loads of design space with which to work. On the other hand, it significantly limited their ability to do other mechanics because of their similarities to Kicker. After all, what are Overload, Replicate, Entwine, Conspire, and Strive if not variations on Kicker?

It can be argued that it sometimes designers will do all sorts of mental gymnastics to create a Kicker-adjacent mechanic without actually calling it that, and they may have a point – Strive being the most recent example. (See Multikicker / Comet Storm). Still, it is understandable to see why they’re not all that keen to re-use it.

Another example that often comes up is differentiating between typical gold-framed multicolor cards and hybrid cards. Hybrid was seen by many players as a natural evolution of an existing card type. Hybrid cards (usually) consist of two or more colors, but unlike normal multicolor cards, their mana costs can be paid with different types of mana. Fracturing Gust can be paid with Green and/or White mana; Din of the Fireherd can use Black and/or Red. Hybrid has since become immensely popular as a result. Part of this is because it makes powerful multicolor cards easier to cast, and partially because of their capability of being splashed into decks that otherwise wouldn’t be able to use them. Fracturing Gust can go into a monowhite deck, a Red/White Boros deck, a Blue/Green Simic deck – any deck that reliably generate the color(s) the card wants.

However, contrary to the opinion of many, a hybrid card is not the same thing as a multicolor card. Hybrid cards do something the color(s) represented are already capable of doing on their own; the hybridization is sort of a flavorful melding of two overlapping effects. Sundering Growth is hybrid because both Green and White are capable of destroying artifacts and enchantments. Hull Breach, on the other hand, could never be a hybrid because while both Green and Red like blowing up artifacts, Red does not have access to enchantment destruction – and would certainly never be able to do it for two mana.

The truth is, though, that unlike Kicker, hybrid has a lot more restricted design space. The colors only have so much overlap, and it’s very easy to create color bleeds if they’re done incorrectly. I’m pretty sure Rosewater is still spitting water over Guttural Response, as neither color is supposed to get that card’s ability in modern Magic, let alone two. With normal multicolor cards, each is supposed to express its colors somewhere, either via flavor or mechanics. With two-color cards, this is pretty well developed by now, but once you start getting into three or more colors, things start getting trickier.

Most tricolor cards nowadays usually make sense in their colors, although there are certainly some that leave you puzzled. By contrast, five color, or ‘WUBRG’ cards, often have their own nebulous design rules to them as to what goes, and more often than not they’re done for flavor reasons. After all, there are only 21 of those in the game, and aside from the four Sliver lords, they’re all vastly different from one another. This makes sense, really. It’s not as easy as it seems to design a balanced five color card containing elements of every color without simply stapling effects together like check boxes (Looking at you Chromnaticore).

And yet apparently it’s far still easier than doing four colors. Because only five of those exist. Those are, of course, the Nephilim. And one of those happens to be our pick this week.

Today we have: Dune-Brood Nephilim

Dune-Brood Nephilim

Name: Dune-Brood Nephilim

Edition: Guildpact

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Generation

Highlights: The Nephilim (aside from their lack of legendary status) are an odd bunch. Part of this is because they came about during the first Ravnica block when the focus was on the guilds rather than the guildless factions of the plane. The Nephilim, being four-color entities, stood out like sore thumbs.

The larger reason, though, is that as four-color avatars, none of them truly feel like the embodiment of all of their colors. They each have strange abilities in strange color combinations. Good luck finding the Blue in Yore-Tiller Nephilim for instance. Or the Black in Dune-Brood for that matter.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth using, especially in this case. Should you have a deck that can make use of Dune-Brood Nephilim, it can easily pay off. For just four mana you have a moderately sized creature that generates tokens whenever you deal combat damage to an opponent. Since the number of tokens you get is dependent on how much land you have, this card scales incredibly well depending on how far into the game it is. In the early phases you’ll likely be growing your army by at least four creatures, and in the latter stages of the game it can easily be substantially more. This gives you easy access to additional attackers, blockers, sacrifice fodder, and more, all for very little cost.

Moreover, because Dune-Brood is somewhat unassuming by dealing relatively small damage by itself, it doesn’t generate the same level of board threat as heavier hitters right out of the gate. Since most people aren’t going to retaliate quickly over three damage, this helps it survive on the board much longer than a similar creature with larger stats. That said, it can only take smacking people a few times with it to amass a sizable army of 1/1 Sand creatures, so don’t be surprised that it be on the receiving end of creature removal if it starts getting sand everywhere.

Yep, apparently since it lacks Blue mana, this Nephilim will bring shoreline dunes to you instead. And then hit you with it. Go figure.

There are only two major downsides to Dune-Brood. The first is that it lacks any evasion by itself. Secondly is its four color casting requirement, which severely limits the number of Commander decks it can be put in. Should you have such a deck, however, this is one creature that can easily fit in your arsenal. It flies under the radar when it first comes out, and its effect is deceptively useful so long as you can get through someone’s defenses for potshot damage.

Personally, I always felt that Dune-Brood, and the Nephilim as a whole, were a missed design opportunity. Rather than try to create an effect that possessed four colors, to this day I maintain that it would’ve been far more interesting to have had them punish their missing color. Dune-Brood lacks Blue, so punish opponents for having Blue cards or doing Blue-centric abilities like drawing multiple cards or casting noncreature spells. Not only would it fit flavor-wise, but it would have created a legitimate way to see some soft modern color hosing. You also wouldn’t have had the goofy, head scratching Nephilim we have now.

Since we do, though, we might as well make the best of it, and the Dune-Brood is a solid choice for those looking to make their mark with a viable WUBRG Commander deck.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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