Commander Showdown – Neheb vs Neheb

Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion by Igor Kieryluk | Neheb, the Eternal by Chris Rahn

The Undead Mono-Red Minotaur

Neheb, the Worthy was a precocious character from Amonkhet block, so driven to succeed that it cost him his life. Don’t worry, though – that’s what he wanted. He’s come back from the grave, and in an ironic twist, his undead-ness actually removed black from his color identity. Now we know him as Neheb, the Eternal. That is, we did, until he decided to invade and destroy another huge city. Now, in War of the Spark, he’s earned the title Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion.

Both of these mono-red menaces have taken us for a spin. Neheb, the Eternal converts pain into mana advantage, while Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion has decided he’d like to simulate Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder for a little while, flipping into new, random cards that he can cast with ease.

If you’re in the market for a mono-red deck, which of these baddies is the best fit for command? How do their different mana-producing abilities affect their strategical direction and deck construction? The only way to find out is to wander into the Minotaur’s labyrinth! Let’s get to it.


The Devil We Know

Let’s begin with Neheb, the Eternal, a pain-inducing attacker that converts enemy life loss into massive bursts of mana. Even if he’s blocked, Afflict guarantees he’ll make some mana on your second main phase.

Players were quick to realize Neheb’s obnoxious synergy with the card Aggravated Assault. Attack, make mana, use that mana to attack again, make mana, repeat steps 1-2 until your opponents are nothing but a pile of ash. You don’t need to go infinite with the Assault for Neheb to make a huge impact, either. Even a few extra combats from World at War or Seize the Day will amass quite a lot of mana. Since Neheb triggers again every time you get an additional postcombat main phase, and since he keeps track of all life lost this turn, not just life lost in the last combat step, he’s the king of extra combats, able to blast out ten, twenty, or functionally infinite mana in one blazing turn.

Happily, Neheb doesn’t just track life lost during combat. A single activation of Heartless Hidetsugu can give him roughly 60 mana in one swipe. Flame Rift becomes a Mana Geyser. Cryptolith Fragment will give you one mana on your first main phase, and three mana on your second.

What do we do will all that mana? Well, there are a few options. Most obviously, we can cast basically any spell in our hand. In other words, in true red fashion, our hand will empty out pretty quick. This makes it very appealing to use effects like Reforge the Soul, to make sure we have more spells to cast.

Beyond that, red has some astronomically huge spells to funnel all that pent-up mana into. Commune with Lava can pull a bunch of epic spells right from your deck, and Apex of Power ain’t too difficult to cast when your commander generates mana like there’s no tomorrow. Best of all, red has about ninety gazillion Fireball effects, most notably Comet Storm and Jaya’s Immolating Inferno.

These are all explosive synergies, but that explosiveness comes at a cost: it’s not always consistent. Red decks might fire on all cylinders, or they might sputter out. Red is, by design, a loose cannon. In a 100-card format, we’ve got even less consistency than normal, which compounds the challenge.

What to do? Go to a decklist, that’s what.

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If I may be blunt, I don’t think it’s appropriate any longer for players to say red is bad at mana ramp and card draw in Commander. First of all, I disagree with the premise that mana ramp and card draw are absolute necessities to the format (more on that later), but second of all, if you don’t think red can accumulate cards, you’re not paying attention.

Reforge the Soul is not the only way red can draw cards. Take a quick glance in the list above and you’ll find consistent card advantage providers like The Immortal Sun and Outpost Siege. Look into a few under-utilized artifacts and you’ll come across Endless Atlas and Sunset Pyramid. Dare to risk it all with Experimental Frenzy, which is better than you think it is. And that’s all before you get to amazing new effects like Etali, Primal Storm, Sunbird’s Invocation, or Stolen Strategy.

Are those effects less sexy than a Rhystic Study or a Rishkar’s Expertise? Sure. They require a lot more mana to utilize. But that’s exactly the point: Neheb is a mana-making mastermind. You will not struggle to cast Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, because you can cast a single Fiery Confluence and Neheb will create a bajillion mana for you.

Oh, and don’t forget one of the most important lessons of the game – inverse card advantage. Note the presence of Blood Moon, Torpor Orb, and Relic of Progenitus in the list above. Do they advance Neheb’s plan? Nope. But they absolutely demolish other strategies. A single Crook of Condemnation allows you to spend one card to negate an entire Meren of Clan Nel Toth player’s deck. That’s card advantage, and don’t you forget it.

The takeaway for Neheb? He’s a ramp-tastic mana-monger, and all that mana production means that even the ‘bad’ card advantage effects aren’t so bad after all. You have a Mana Geyser in the command zone, so look for effects that take advantage of all that mana, because there are more of them than you think. With or without the Aggravated Assault combo, Neheb is explosive, and if you give him enough kindling, his fire will burn as eternally as his title.


New Neheb

New Neheb was an exceptionally tough nut to crack. While he still has the mana production capabilities of his former iteration, which would similarly allow him to go infinite with Aggravated Assault, the explosiveness simply isn’t the same. Additionally, to create mana, new Neheb does require you to discard and draw cards, which means the infinite combat combo is hampered by the number of cards left in your deck – you could mill yourself long before you deal enough damage to the table. This could technically be circumvented by including Kozilek, Butcher of Truth to reshuffle our deck, but adding in safeguards like this to accomplish the same combo as Neheb, the Eternal feels silly.

What’s most unique about new Neheb is the fact that he discards so many cards. We’ve seen before how powerful rummaging can be. Just ask any Daretti, Scrap Savant player. When you’re tossing cards away for use later on, you’re not down on card advantage. In fact, you’re riding high. Should new Neheb pursue a similar path? Discard a bunch of artifacts, then revive them with Daretti, Goblin Welder, and Scrap Mastery? It’s not a bad idea, though I think Daretti himself has already cornered that market. What else, then, can red do with all those discarded cards?

No use being coy! This deck is all-in on the Mizzix’s Mastery plan.

I’ll be honest, this playstyle normally distresses me, and I’d usually avoid it. Relying upon a single card in the 99 is risky – what if you never find it? Luckily, Neheb digs faster than a Yorkshire Terrier, and has a slew of rummage and wheel spells to help him churn through the deck, from Cathartic Reunion to Khorvath’s Fury. Besides, going all-in on a risky plan is frankly what mono-red does best.

So which spells will Mizzix be mastering?

The precise payoff doesn’t matter as much as the cards that get us there. We’re going for a big Bonus Round, magnifying even further with Doublecast and Howl of the Horde and Reverberate and Increasing Vengeance and Fury Storm, to go from doubling to quadrupling to octupling and beyond. From here, any damage-dealing spell will raze our opposition to the ground.

Price of Progress can already deal a lot of damage to the average EDH player, but when it’s been copied 8 times, it’s a surefire victory. Khorvath’s Fury can help us wheel and can deal eight bazillion damage when it gets copied eight bazillion times. Chandra’s Ignition will cause Neheb to emanate wave after wave of fire, and speaking of fire, Fiery Confluence is a darn dangerous beast if you cast it multiple times. Any of these damage-dealers will do. All we need is a good density of copying spells.

What if Mizzix’s Mastery is tossed to one of our own wheel spells? We have backup. Recoup will indeed recoup a spell for a big blowout, and Past in Flames could help us out too, either by flashing back the Mastery, or by recasting and copying ritual spells like Mana Geyser or Inner Fire to make tons of mana for one big Comet Storm. New Neheb doesn’t just fill the yard with fuel, he also give us that big mana boost we need to get the ball rolling on the turn we finally pull the trigger.

We don’t always need a damage-dealing spell as a win condition, though. Casting a bunch of spells off Mizzix’s Mastery will also trigger Guttersnipe. If we draw a bunch of cards from all those Fateful Showdown effects, Psychosis Crawler will happily drain the rest of the table. Aetherflux Reservoir and Sentinel Tower are no joke, too. In fact, it might even be wise to run Daretti, Scrap Savant not only to help rummage through cards, but also to reconstruct one of those artifacts in case we’ve pitched it already. With one of these in play, even casting a bunch of little red spells from a big Mastery will still spell doom for our enemies. (Oh, and yes, we’ll run Aggravated Assault too, just in case.)

Alright, if I don’t get to the decklist, Neheb will have be turned into a Lazotep Zombie. Check it out here:

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A major concern for a deck like this is its linearity. Many of us EDH players enjoy games that are unique and different every time around. Even if the core plan for that Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice player is to win with a bunch of planeswalkers, they never know which ones might actually stick the landing from game to game. This Mizzix’s Mastery plan is eggs-all-in-one-basket, with little room for improvisation. Our graveyard is fuel, and Mizzix’s Mastery is the match. Don’t light it until you’re ready.

Normally, that would bother me, but frankly, I think the Commander community at large could do with a little more open-mindedness to that style of gameplay. From Zada, Hedron Grinder to Purphoros, God of the Forge, mono-red has been showing us its strengths for a while now. Red takes an active role in setting the pace of the game, which means no one can dawdle or play lazy EDH. You don’t need to draw cards if your opponents have 0 life.

Mono-red does the thing, does it fast, and it does it at the right moment, or else it loses everything. That’s linear, sure, but it’s also exciting. Can your opponents outrace and outsmart your ticking time bomb? Can you find the window of opportunity to pull the trigger? If you rush, you’ll squander the moment, but if you wait too long, your opponents might be prepared. That’s engaging, and EDH could use a few more decks like that to make sure no one’s getting complacent.

As EDH players, we’re trained to look for the synergy between Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion and Alhammarret’s Archive. That’s awesome, and sure, we’ll use it, but that’s not what we’re here to capitalize on. We’re also not here to wheel five cards every turn and pray that our Psychosis Crawler stays alive to slowly bleed our enemies dry. We’re here to assemble the single biggest explosion the north has ever seen.

If you’re trying to accumulate value, you’re playing red wrong. Red plays to win. It doesn’t play to not lose.


Cards to Consider

Before we wrap up, let’s briefly touch on a few important cards that deserve a second look for both of these commanders.


Neheb, the Eternal

  • Red Elemental Blast: This and Pyroblast are rarely dead. Blue is everywhere, and it’s the color most likely to try and disrupt your shenanigans. Plus, one mana to destroy an Atraxa, Muldrotha, or Animar? I’m into it.
  • Incite Rebellion: A damage-into-mana enabler for Neheb, but also sometimes just a plain ol’ win condition against a token deck.
  • Knollspine Dragon: I’m stunned this doesn’t see more play. The ceiling here is crazy high.
  • Sunset Pyramid: This, Endless Atlas, Treasure Map… when you make as much mana as Neheb does, you tend not to mind the cost. Establish a steady stream of fuel and Neheb will gear up for a wildfire.
  • Experimental Frenzy: It seriously is better than you think it is.

Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion

  • Fury StormI don’t want too many of my picks for this Neheb to skew toward the Mizzix’s Mastery plan I decided to utilize, but regardless of how you build Neheb, this is a powerful spell than should see more play in red decks across the board.
  • Geth’s Grimoire: If you make players discard cards at all, consider this. You’ll be surprised how often it triggers even without wheel effects.
  • Price of ProgressIt’s important to know what your deck does, but it’s just as important to know what your deck doesn’t do. Nonbasics run rampant in EDH, and this spell could kill enemies just by accident even if we aren’t copying it eighty times with one big Mastery.
  • Pyromancer’s GogglesCast Wild Guess, discard a card. Copy the spell. Draw four cards. Sounds pretty great. Better yet, copy a Comet Storm!
  • Howl of the Horde: I’m shocked this spell doesn’t see more play in general, but I think Neheb in particular will make great use of it. He attacks, finds you a bunch of new cards, and Howl will make one of them super super super fun. For you, that is; I don’t think the rest of the table will enjoy it when you Chandra’s Ignition them three times.

Mono-Red Makes ‘Em Dead!

While Neheb, the Eternal pumps out mana like nobody’s business, Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion opens up a few weird doors like he’s a mono-red Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, and considering how quickly he can dig for key spells, he’s got a lot of potential for some wacky build-around brews. More than anything, I’m pleased that these commanders challenge the conventions of EDH and force us to reconsider the things we think we know about the colors and about the format. To play these commanders well, you’ll have to look past simple value or pleasant synergies. Neheb demands a plan, a little spice, and a whole lot of nerve, but if you know what you’re doing, he’ll help you win the war, and will do so with a whole lot of panache.

So, which version of Neheb would you rather build? Oh, and which commanders would you like to see featured on the next Commander Showdown?

Cast your spells… and your votes! (Write-ins and suggestions are always welcome!)

Til next time!

Joseph Schultz works in a library by day and shuffles libraries by night. He hosts the EDHRECast with Matt Morgan and Dana Roach over at http://edhrecast.libsyn.com/ and has recently taken over as Editor for the articles here on EDHREC! He was also born exactly one year before Magic: the Gathering, which he thinks is probably some kind of sign. Follow @JosephMSchultz on Twitter!