Last updated on February 8, 2023
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker (Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas) | Illustration by Izzy
Villains come in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of baggage and motivations. Some are sympathetic, like Black Panther’s Namor. There are tragic ones like Mr. Freeze from Batman comics. And of course, there are the villains we all love to hate, like Nicol Bolas.
What makes Nicol Bolas such a fun villain is that he’s so cartoonishly evil he almost comes back around to being likable. If you’re in the mood to roleplay as a villain while you play Magic, Nicol Bolas gives you that chance.
Unlike Tibalt or The Raven Man, Nicol Bolas’ cards also live up to the hype of his in-universe villainy. There are some really nasty Nicol Bolas cards to deal with that perfectly mirror his power and how persistent a threat he was for a while in Magic’s story. One of his cards is so good that I won’t even put it in my superfriends deck because it feels a little like cheating.
You might not realize how much of an impact Nicol Bolas had on the story for years if you’ve recently started playing the game. Once you learn a little more about him, you’ll either be hoping for his return or praying he stays locked away for good. Let’s get into it!
Who Is Nicol Bolas?
Nicol Bolas | Illustration by D. Alexander Gregory
Nicol Bolas is both an Elder Dragon and a planeswalker. He’s very hungry for power and has cooked up scheme after scheme to try and acquire it. He’s indirectly responsible for the forming of the Gatewatch, and he also served as their main antagonist for a good stretch of time.
Fans like to compare the Gatewatch to the Avengers, so that logic basically makes Nicol Bolas Thanos.
List of Nicol Bolas Cards
Nicol Bolas is one of the original five Elder Dragons. Apart from being the ancestors of all dragons, the original Elder Dragon cards also spawned the popular Commander format, originally called Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH).
Though powerful at the time of printing, Nicol Bolas is a bit underpowered by today’s standards. This card costs you 11 mana before you can even attack with it without a haste enabler, and it has no way to protect itself from removal.
But it does have a pretty nasty effect if it does manage to deal damage, which will likely give you a huge advantage over an opponent in a 1v1 game.
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker does an excellent job showing how much of a power upgrade the Elder Dragon got once his spark ignited. As far as planeswalkers go, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is one of the best at protecting itself.
Not only can it immediately destroy most permanents on the battlefield, it can also get you an extra blocker by taking your opponent’s best creature. It can also tick up to eight loyalty on its first turn, so players have to waste a big attack to get rid of Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker without a removal spell.
Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver
Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver comes from one of the Hour of Devastation planeswalker decks. Like most planeswalkers from one of these products it isn’t quite as powerful as its mana value would suggest.
While none of its abilities are bad, they just don’t make as big a splash as they need to justify the 8-mana cost. Even its ultimate ability is underwhelming when you compare it to fellow 8-mana planeswalkers like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is the type of card that can change the game in an instant. Depending on how lucky you are its +2 ability can cause a huge swing in power at no additional cost to you. It also has more surefire ways to harm your opponents or remove some of their creatures, but I find it too tempting not to try and topdeck something incredible from my opponents’ decks.
God-Pharaoh also has a very impactful ultimate ability if you manage to get it off, another good reason to focus on ticking it up when possible. This one-sided board wipe sets you up very nicely to take out your opponents, or at least buys you some extra time.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager / Nicol Bolas, the Arisen
Your other option for a Nicol Bolas commander is Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. This is also the cheapest Nicol Bolas card. The Ravager is an okay creature as a 4-mana 4/4 flier, but it really shines when transformed into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen.
The Arisen is a very powerful planeswalker. Its card draw ability alone is a huge advantage, and it can also serve as a good source of removal. If you manage to get Nicol Bolas’s ult off it can effectively take out one of your opponents.
While Nicol Bolas, the Arisen is a great planeswalker, it’ll cost you 11 mana to get out so it’s relatively difficult to consistently keep on the board.
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God is a decent card on its own. It offers you card advantage and removal options like other versions of Bolas. Its ultimate can also win you the game, or at least take out one or two opponents in Commander.
But the true highlight of this card is its static ability. Any powerful planeswalkers your opponents have are basically yours now, or you can double up on any planeswalker abilities you have. This card is great in a superfriends deck and as a counter to one.
Nicol Bolas’ Backstory
Nicol Bolas’s origin is the same as all the Elder Dragons. He was born from an egg stone that was originally part of the Ur-Dragon, a powerful avatar and the origin of all dragons. Originally just Nicol, Bolas was the smallest of the Elder Dragons.
Nicol witnessed another elder dragon being killed by humans when he was young. This eventually inspired his kill-or-be-killed attitude toward life, which led him to pursue more and more power.
The Elder Dragons eventually went to war, a conflict that lasted for thousands of years. Nicol, now going by Nicol Bolas, ruled most of Dominaria and was on the verge of winning the war when his planeswalker spark ignited. This ripped him away from Dominaria and allowed some of the other Elder Dragons the chance to survive.
Is Nicol Bolas Gone for Good?
Prison Realm | Illustration by Daarken
Nicol Bolas was nearly killed by the Gatewatch and their allies after his planeswalker spark was removed during the War of the Spark story. Ugin convinced Jace that Bolas shouldn’t be killed just before his death: the crafty Elder Dragon had probably put some countermeasures in place to prevent his death.
Jace and Ugin worked together to seal Bolas in the Meditation realm. Not only could he not escape from the realm on his own, but Ugin magically stripped Nicol Bolas of his name so he couldn’t be summoned by other beings. Ugin pledged to watch over Bolas until his natural life ended and he eventually died, ensuring that Bolas could never escape.
These extreme measures of keeping Bolas out of the story seem to be WotC’s way of telling fans that they wouldn’t be seeing Nicol Bolas or Ugin any time soon. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be printed on any new cards. Wizards sometimes print cards for long-dead characters, like how Yawgmoth, Thran Physician was printed in Modern Horizons. It’s possible that Bolas could return in the form of a new card, even if his time as part of Magic’s story is done.
It’s also possible that Wizards didn’t fully kill Bolas off so that he could return if needed. The Magic multiverse is currently facing a huge threat in the form of the Phyrexians, so there’s no telling what uneasy alliances might form to stop them. It’s possible that the Gatewatch might need to team up with their old nemesis. Alternatively, Ugin may realize that he needs to step in and help with the fight, allowing Nicol Bolas to slip away while his guard is gone.
Who Defeated Nicol Bolas?
Defeating Nicol Bolas took the combined effort of the Gatewatch and their allies on Ravnica, as well as some planeswalkers who were summoned from other planes by Ral Zarek’s beacon.
Some of the main contributors to Bolas’s defeat were: Liliana Vess, who attempted to sacrifice herself to turn against him; Gideon Jura, who sacrificed himself to save Liliana; Jace Beleren, who created the illusion of Nicol Bolas dying; and Ugin, who helped seal Bolas away in the Meditation Realm.
Is Nicol Bolas the Strongest Planeswalker?
There’s some debate in Magic’s story over who the most powerful planeswalker is. While Nicol Bolas is definitely very powerful, many argue that Ugin is a more powerful planeswalker.
Ugin has proven to be incredibly powerful, but he doesn’t often display his true strength since he doesn’t seek power the same way Nicol Bolas does. Some fans also argue that Ashiok may be the most powerful planeswalker, though so little is known of the living nightmare that it’s hard to say how powerful they actually are.
On the tabletop, Nicol Bolas isn’t the strongest planeswalker. He may have some good cards, but they’re all relatively expensive. No Nicol Bolas card has ever made the kind of impact on Magic’s meta as cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or the infamous Oko, Thief of Crowns.
Why Did Nicol Bolas Free the Eldrazi?
All planeswalkers have been less powerful than they once were since the Mending. Nicol Bolas’s mission after the event was to regain his lost power.
When he released the Eldrazi on Zendikar, Bolas hoped to harvest their sparks and use them to increase his own power. He wasn’t so much interested in the Eldrazi themselves as he was creating a big enough conflict to get the attention of powerful walkers.
What Type of Dragon Is Nicol Bolas?
Nicol Bolas is an Elder Dragon spawned from the Ur-Dragon, and one of the progenitors of all future dragons. Aside from being an Elder Dragon, Nicol Bolas is also a planeswalker and a god to his followers on both Dominaria and Amonkhet.
How Old Is Nicol Bolas?
Nicol Bolas was born around -25,000 AR, and the present year in Magic’s story is 4562 AR. That makes Nicol Bolas nearly 30,000 years old. He’s one of the oldest characters in all of Magic, born before Urza and even Yawgmoth.
Is Nicol Bolas a God?
Yes, Nicol Bolas is technically a god in-lore, but there’s no clear definition of “godhood” in Magic. Mechanically, though, none of Nicol Bolas’ cards have the “god” creature type.
Nicol Bolas became a god when he took over the empire of Madara on Dominaria and established himself as their God-Emperor. The title seems to be a self-imposed one and just means that his followers worship him religiously, not just as a political leader.
Nicol Bolas’s powers differ from gods on planes like Theros or Amonkhet, but those gods also have different abilities from one another. The idea of a god in Magic is pretty loosely defined, so Bolas is a god because he’s worshipped like one.
What Did Nicol Bolas Do to Amonkhet?
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh | Illustration by Raymond Swanland
Nicol Bolas’s activities on the plane of Amonkhet are probably the worst things he’s ever done. Bolas invaded the plane, drawn there due to his interest in the plane’s Lazotep metal. Bolas convinced one of the plane’s gods, Bontu, to help him kill the rest of the gods. To do so, Bontu killed every adult being on the plane, weakening the gods due to the absence of their worshippers.
After killing the gods and every adult on Amonkhet, Bolas brought back the plane’s dead as zombies and used them to raise the children. Bolas convinced the new generations of Amonkhet that he was both their god and the creator of the plane. He raised them to worship him and told them they must prove themselves worthy to reach a good afterlife.
Eventually Bolas turned these “Worthy Dead” into his zombified Eternals, which he used to invade Ravnica during the War of the Spark.
Which Planeswalkers Are on Nicol Bolas’s Side?
Which planeswalkers work with Bolas depends on the point of time. Bolas is a schemer, so he often manipulates planeswalkers into working with him.
Planeswalkers like Sarkhan and Liliana have worked with him, but they weren’t always doing it freely or with the full information of what they were doing. Ral Zarek also worked with Bolas in the past, but eventually turned against him.
Bolas worked with Tezzeret, Dovin Baan, Kaya, Vraska, and Domri Rade during the War of the Spark. Kaya turned against him similar to past accomplices, and Vraska was only helping him because some of her memories had been removed.
What Are Nicol Bolas’s Powers?
Nicol Bolas is an incredibly powerful magic user, specializing in black-, blue-, and red-aligned spells.
Bolas has proven especially skilled at countering the magic of other planeswalkers and controlling their minds. He also has a natural ability for mind manipulation which he can do by touching others. Like all planeswalkers, Bolas has the ability to travel the Blind Eternities and reach other planes of existence.
Why Is Nicol Bolas so Powerful?
As an Elder Dragon Nicol Bolas is naturally a powerful being. He also has the added powers of a planeswalker. But he sets himself apart from other planeswalkers by harvesting their sparks.
This increased Bolas’s powers immensely, making him one of (if not the) most powerful planeswalker in the multiverse.
What Does Nicol Bolas Want?
Nicol Bolas’s wants are simple: to be the most powerful being in the multiverse. Bolas would love nothing more than to rule everything and be able to defeat anyone who challenges him.
Are Ugin and Nicol Bolas Brothers?
Ugin and Nicol Bolas aren’t just brothers, but twins. Unlike the other Elder Dragons who were born from their own egg with two names, Ugin and Nicol shared an egg and were only given a single name each. Nicol took the second name Bolas later to fit in with the other Elder Dragons.
Nicol and Ugin were born the smallest of the Elder Dragons since they shared an egg. Their siblings mocked them for their size, leading Ugin and Nicol to hone their skills working together.
But when Ugin discovered that Nicol was only using him to get more powerful, Ugin’s spark ignited and he was forced to planeswalk away. This led to a rivalry between the brothers coming from Nicol’s envy of his brother’s planeswalker abilities.
What’s Between Nicol Bolas’s Horns?
The gem between Bolas’s horns is actually a piece of Ugin’s soul that only appeared after he killed his twin brother. Ugin used this bit of himself to spy on his brother and see everything he had done.
Decklist: Nicol Bolas in Commander
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Disciple of Bolas
Neheb, the Eternal
The Locust God
The Scarab God
The Scorpion God
Augur of Bolas
Commence the Endgame
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Crux of Fate
Deliver Unto Evil
Finale of Eternity
Honor the God-Pharaoh
Hour of Devastation
Torment of Hailfire
Slave of Bolas
In Bolas's Clutches
The Eldest Reborn
Gem of Becoming
Obelisk of Grixis
Pyramid of the Pantheon
Visage of Bolas
Crypt of the Eternals
Desert of the Fervent
Desert of the Mindful
Dunes of the Dead
This EDH deck has all the Nicol Bolas you could want. It includes every version of Nicol Bolas as well as a ton of Bolas-themed cards. A lot of cards either depict or reference Bolas.
This deck is more concerned with being thematic, so it could likely be optimized if you want to make some changes.
Finale of Eternity | Illustration by Daarken
Nicol Bolas made a huge impact on Magic’s story for a long time. Whether or not he ever returns, he’ll still go down as one of the most impactful villains in the whole multiverse. And if he does happen to return then you can be sure that the multiverse is in some serious trouble.
Would you like to see Nicol Bolas return? Who’s your favorite Magic villain? Do you think Bolas would be able to help fight the Phyrexians? Let me know in the comments below or join the discussion over in the Draftsim Discord.
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