Archetune-Up – Returninator of the Burninator

(Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion l Art by Igor Kieryluk)

The Champion Returns

Hello, and welcome back to Archetune-Up, a weekly article series devoted to tweaking a deck with the help of the EDHREC Theme pages!

This is a special edition today, as this week marks a full year writing for EDHREC! This time last year I kicked off this column breaking down a Neheb, the Eternal list submitted by my friend, Rodrigo, and the rest is history!

Much like with the decks I featured here on Archetune-Up, there has been a streamlining of the series over the past year.

  • Instead of trying to use multiple themes to flesh out a deck, we are now focusing on a core, centralized theme for decks.
  • We’ve shifted from a monthly series to a weekly one.
  • We’re now diving deeper into EDHREC’s data by using the site’s average list as opposed to reader-submitted ones (though reader lists will still be featured, albeit infrequently).

The series has evolved over time, and I cannot wait to see what is next for it so I can share it with you all.

With all this talk on reminiscing about the past and new changes and improvements, it seemed only fitting to revisit the newest Neheb from War of the Spark and see how this iteration of our favorite Minotaur compares to his previous one.

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Much different than Neheb, the Eternal, Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion revels in the midst of combat. We are rewarded with his ability when he connects with an opponent through combat, unlike being rewarded for potential passivity with Neheb, the Eternal. To go along with this shift in style of play, we trade the ability to ramp huge amounts of mana for a more metered form of ramp built in with card selection.

This is an interesting marriage of abilities that plays on a slightly different axis than Zombie Neheb 2.0, but still makes sense for the character, as it combines Neheb the Worthy‘s discard effect with Neheb, the Eternal‘s mana production. A mechanical through-line like this is reminiscent of the three red/blue Niv-Mizzets, and I’m glad that they exist.

Enough with talking about the easter eggs and mechanical gems of Neheb, let’s dig into the site’s average deck!


Playing to our Strengths

Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion has the same amount of themes listed on their page as Neheb, the Eternal, but there is a huge discrepancy between the two: the raw number of decks. At the time of writing this, Neheb, the Eternal has about three and a half times more decks than Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion, so what does this tell us?

The first thing to consider is that Dreadhorde Champion has only been out for about one-third of the time that The Eternal has been, so that, of course, impacts the numbers in some fashion. Second, Neheb, the Eternal is overall more open-ended than Dreadhorde Champion. He only cares about damage dealt to opponents prior to your second main phase, he doesn’t care how it happens. This gives you a large berth of options to torture your opponents with while also having a higher potential mana production ceiling than Dreadhorde Champion. I believe versatility combined with raw power that pulls deckbuilders towards Neheb 2.0 as opposed to Neheb 3.0. Where does that leave us, though? Is Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion even worth trying to build around?

The short answer is, of course, yes! The long answer is…well…the rest of this article!

Just because Neheb is a bit more niche than before does not make him strictly worse, it just means you need to put more thought and effort into the deck and its synergies. This may be a turn-off to some, and while that may be valid, I think that just gives us even more of a reason to zero in on what this Neheb can do better: excelling in combat, specifically multiple extra combats.


Combative by Nature

The Extra Combats Theme is exactly what Neheb wants. We already have eight ways to give us extra combats in the deck, so it was much more important to flesh out other aspects of what the theme wanted, instead.

A perfect example of using this theme to flesh out our deck is Bloodsworn Steward. Steward is a red version of Bastion Protector, pumping our commander while also giving him haste. Both of these effects are something that Neheb loves. +2/+2 brings Neheb to the all-important seven power, which will ensure that he can take out opponents in three hits if unobstructed while also allowing him to attack and wheel our hand the turn we cast him. Steward is also a good creature in its own right, being a 4/4 for four mana with flying, which is pretty aggressive as far as red creatures go.

Not only are we focused on attacking, but we also need to keep in mind that we have the potential to wheel our hand every single turn. This allows us to bake in some fun graveyard synergies into the deck, like Backdraft Hellkite. Hellkite is a bigger, angrier Snapcaster Mage that triggers each time it attacks, which will be every turn if we have our way. With cards like Hellkite, we can leverage our graveyard to help us utilize a wide range of spells, from incremental value, like Tormenting Voice, to Relentless Assault to chain combats together. Chaining combats like this is incredibly strong since we can use the extra steps to help push damage through, ramp, and then repeat with Neheb, allowing us to do a mono-red impression of Narset, Enlightened Master!

Spells like Howl of the Horde and Bonus Round also serve important roles in our deck. While we’re running other versions of this effect like Reverberate and Bolt Bend which we can use to copy our opponents’ spells, Howl of the Horde and Bonus Round join Increasing Vengeance to allow us to copy our own spells and let us fly off the handle. We can copy any instant or sorcery we have with these spells; whether we need to dig through our deck deeper with Faithless Looting or continue chaining combats, these spells are versatile and provide us with extra ways to blow out opponents in a single turn.


Womboing and Comboing

One-note combat decks like this one can often fall apart after a board wipe or two, so it’s critical that we build in a second plan of attack. EDHREC’s list already included Helm of the Host and Combat Celebrant, two cards that just happen to be pieces to combos in mono-red, so I decided to follow that line of thought…

Godo, Bandit Warlord combines with Helm of the Host in order to provide infinite combat steps. For six mana, Godo is able to tutor through our deck and grab any Equipment we wish and put it onto the battlefield. With eleven mana available, which isn’t too much to ask at mid-to-low power level tables, Godo can grab and equip the Helm and then proceed to give us an arbitrary number of combats. Granted, unless you include other Samurai, you will only be able to attack with the 3/3 Godo token each subsequent combat, but as long as your opponents don’t have a Fog or a creature with indestructible, you’ll eventually be able to punch holes through each of their blockers and take them out.

A similar combo involves Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker/Helm of the Host and Combat Celebrant, although with this combo all of your creatures will untap each combat, unlike with Godo. Once again, we can create an arbitrary number of combat steps and relentlessly attack our opponents with our board of creatures. We also have the option of Exerting the Combat Celebrant tokens and only attacking with them if we don’t want to risk getting blown out by something like Aetherspouts or Settle the Wreckage. Over all, Kiki-Jiki can be used as a centerpiece for combos, or it can be used as a value engine to reuse effects from creatures like Dualcaster Mage or the aforementioned Backdraft Hellkite.

I added Zealous Conscripts to the deck because it’s a potential combo piece that can provide a secondary function. Conscripts can perform a Splinter Twin-like combo with Kiki-Jiki, letting us create an arbitrary amount of tokens by untapping Kiki-Jiki each time one enters. This can easily let us take out the entire board in a single turn if we have to! Conscripts’ ability to snag an opponent’s creature for a turn also functions outside of a Kiki combo, since it can remove a pesky blocker and push damage through for one or multiple combats, which is exactly what we want. Not only that, but we can make deals with other opponents to block and kill the creature for us, if we want!


Incentives of Aggression

Something important with decks that revolve around attacking such as this one is making sure that we’re paid off for being the aggressor. It doesn’t do us much good if the only thing we’re rewarded with is loss of our opponents’ lives…most of the time.

The easiest thing we can do to make sure our combats are worth it is by making sure that we’re rewarded for dealing damage to our opponents, similar to Neheb’s ability. This is where Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Fire and Ice come in. Both of these Swords have great on-hit abilities that we would love to take advantage of.

  • Sword of Feast and Famine pressures our opponents’ hands while also untapping all of our lands and giving us more mana to do with as we please. This Sword also has the potential to go infinite alongside Neheb and Aggravated Assault/Hellkite Charger to, once again, give you infinite turns, though you’ll need to pay Charger’s cost up front in order to get the combo going.
  • Sword of Fire and Ice is a bit more subtle. On hit, this Sword allows us to deal two damage to whatever we choose, picking off a pesky Oracle of Mul Daya or keeping a Planeswalker’s loyalty under control. More importantly, this Sword allows us to draw a card, and if we stack our triggers properly, we can draw this card prior to Neheb’s ability, giving us another card to potentially pitch, and an extra mana to potentially produce, as well!

All of the Swords in the “Sword of X and Y” cycle are incredibly strong. The bonus effects for dealing damage alongside of of giving us protection from two colors is fantastic. Feel free to mix and match with other Swords, though, if you find that there are some that would work better for your deck!

My favorite card from the Throne of Eldraine Brawl Decks is Tome of Legends. It’s a fantastic source of card advantage that really rewards aggressive play, as well as subtly rewarding a player utilizing Partners. Two mana for a card that simply needs you to cast and attack with your commander, something we already planned on doing, is great way to draw cards. Tome of Legends also has synergy in this deck: if used in response to Neheb’s trigger, similar to Sword of Fire and Ice, it will give us another card to draw/pitch, and can also refund us on the mana we put into it. Overall, Tome is one of my standout cards from the past year (it was even on my list of Top 10 cards from 2019!) and deserves to see more play than in just 1,200 decks.

Curse of Opulence is an adorable little curse from Commander 2017 that rewards us (and opponents) for attacking the afflicted player. Normally, I’m not one to provide benefits to opponents outside of dedicated Group Hug strategies, but most of this cycle makes the cut for me. These Curses will always reward you whenever your opponents attack the cursed player, which is a big reason for why I enjoy them so much. If this card simply gave each player who attacked the cursed opponent a Treasure, it would be incredibly underwhelming and pretty mediocre. But while each opponent may get a Treasure, so will you, which is a huge distinction. Netting an extra mana or two that we can stockpile and use at our discretion is awesome, though it won’t work with every play group. I’d suggest trying this Curse out first and then cutting it later should it not perform well. I just really like this cycle of Curses and think that they should see more play than they do, especially in aggressive decks like this one.


An End Worthy of the Champion

While I’m not entirely sure that this version of Neheb is the one for me, I can say that I really enjoy how different this Neheb plays compared to the other two, and there are some cards in this deck that work really well compared to in Neheb the Worthy or Neheb, Dreadhorde General.

Cards with graveyard synergies really shine in Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion. Shenanigans, thanks to Dredge, gives us a recurrable piece of artifact hate, while Crucible of Worlds can help us utilize lands we pitch with Neheb’s ability to ensure our land drops each turn.

We can also be more aggressive with our graveyard, utilizing cards with Flashback or Madness-like mechanics such as Ignite the Future, Avacyn’s Judgement, or even Underworld Breach. God-Pharaoh’s Gift can also be included alongside Gate to the Afterlife to filter cards and then reanimate a creature on the beginning of each combat, which has quite a bit of synergy in this build. We also have the potential to go full Narset and include cards like [e]Epicenter[/el] and Ruination if we’re looking to really put our opponents into a tough spot.

Overall, Neheb Dreadhorde Champion is an interesting commander with quite a few different angles of construction. He’s similar to his previous two cards, but just different enough to lead a deck on his own and have it feel like its own unique list. He’s a mix of the old and the new, and a perfect legend to celebrate Archetune-Up‘s one year anniversary.

Thank you all for your continued support and for reading my content. It means the world to me.

If you’d like to reach me I’m quite active on Twitter (@thejesguy) and have an email that I do my best to respond to (thejeskaiguy@gmail.com). If you have any comments, questions, concerns, or anything else of the sort, please don’t hesitate to leave them below or get in touch! I’ll see you next week, friends!

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Angelo is a Connecticut native who started playing Magic during Return to Ravnica, and has made it his mission to play Jeskai in every format possible. With at least 20 EDH decks constructed at all times, it's an understatement to say that he loves Commander. Angelo trusts counterspells over creatures, and is still hurt by Sphinx's Revelation rotation out of Standard.