Last updated on August 30, 2023
Nekusar, the Mindrazer | Illustration by Mark Winters
Ask anyone who played Commander in the early 2010s and they’re bound to bring up repressed memories of Nekusar, the Mindrazer and the stranglehold it had on the format. It was an early boogeyman of EDH, and today you’re donning the cape and becoming the bad guy.
You’re drawing everyone cards, but don’t get it twisted; you’re not group hug. You’re groupslug! And you’re here to give your opponents a bad time.
Damnable Pact | Illustration by Zack Stella
Tourach, Dread Cantor
Big Game Hunter
Zurzoth, Chaos Rider
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
Tergrid, God of Fright
Archfiend of Ifnir
Wheel of Fate
Call to the Netherworld
Winds of Change
Cut // Ribbons
Wheel of Misfortune
Irenicus's Vile Duplication
Reforge the Soul
Echo of Eons
Peer into the Abyss
Path of Ancestry
Otawara, Soaring City
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Temple of the False God
Geier Reach Sanitarium
Nekusar, the Mindrazer punishes your opponents for drawing cards, so this deck takes the form of a classic wheel strategy. It’s filled with Wheel of Fortune style draw-7’s and effects that pile on damage as your opponents keep drawing new hands.
Nekusar isn’t a top-tier commander these days, but the strategy it invokes receives new support cards nearly every set. Wheels and symmetrical draw effects are common in the average set, so there’s no shortage of tools to make the commander tick.
That said, Nekusar is somewhat frail and expensive, so things can get dicey if it keeps dying. The extra card draw also applies to your opponents before you get the bonus, so there’s some risk of running it out, drawing your opponents an extra card each, then having it die before it gets back to your turn. Thankfully the deck has plenty of “backup” Nekusars if your commander keeps biting the bullet.
Nekusar has a damage-based trigger, which opens it up to combos with other damage amplifiers. You’ll often see Nekusar decks running cards like Fiery Emancipation to triple its damage output per card drawn, and it’s the reason you have Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph in the deck.
Nekusar also naturally preys on decks that already have powerful draw engines. Sure, go ahead and cast that Stroke of Genius for X=10. You’re going to feel it when you do. Oh, you want to know if I’ll pay the for Rhystic Study? You know what, I don’t think I will (disclaimer: you should still probably pay the ). Some decks are built entirely around drawing cards, and Nekusar is a walking foil to that gameplan.
Wheeling and Dealing
There are two main categories of payoffs here. One subset of cards cares about the cards that you and your opponents are drawing.
Effects like Underworld Dreams and Psychosis Crawler turn the constant hand-churning into damage. The other set of cards cares about discarding. You have a few madness effects floating around and Waste Not and friends to benefit from discarded cards.
The wheel effects are the lifeblood of this deck. They facilitate the card draw that feeds Nekusar, the Mindrazer and enable your discard payoffs. The constant wheeling also usually disrupts your opponents. Sure, they’re drawing extra cards in the process, but it’s hard to form a concrete plan when the cards you’re holding change from turn to turn. Your deck is full of redundancy and payoffs for wheeling, so it’s less disruptive for you.
There are eight dedicated wheels in this deck, which vary in effectiveness. Wheel of Misfortune, Wheel of Fate, and Reforge the Soul are standard draw-7’s, while Echo of Eons and Memory work from the graveyard thanks to aftermath and flashback, respectively. They’re both great to pitch to your other wheel effects and have as backups down the line.
Windfall usually varies on how many cards it draws, but experience tells me it’s usually a satisfyingly high number.
I don’t count Burning Inquiry as a wheel, but it’s at least wheel-adjacent and fits the deck’s needs.
Most of your wheels have a symmetrical effect, so you want to find ways to come out on top. You can break parity by turning discarding into an advantage. The most straightforward way is with madness cards. Whenever you wheel away a madness card, you have an opportunity to cast it, which is essentially free card advantage since you’re going to replace that card anyway.
Since you’re constantly pitching cards to the graveyard, make sure you have ways to utilize your yard. Cut // Ribbons leaves a win-con in your graveyard, Drownyard Temple can give you a slow ramp effect if discarded, and both Squee, Goblin Nabob and Dogged Detective are easy cards to pick back up.
As you and your opponents cycle through cards, Tourach, Dread Cantor becomes a bigger threat, Archfiend of Ifnir shrinks your opponents’ creatures, and Tergrid, God of Fright… Well, Tergrid does Tergrid things. Again, you’re here to be the enemy. Embrace it.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: opponents will often have some way to use their graveyard as a resource, and you might be enabling them by wheeling. A few handy graveyard hosers are good insurance plans. I’ve included Nihil Spellbomb, Ashiok, Dream Render, and a trusty copy of Bojuka Bog to keep graveyards in check.
Nekusar, the Mindrazer won’t always stick around, but the deck has several redundant pieces that get the job done in the commander’s absence.
Kederekt Parasite, Spiteful Visions, Underworld Dreams, and Fate Unraveler all have similar triggers that punish opponents for drawing cards. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse has the supersized version of this effect, if you can afford a copy.
All these effects combine to lead to a “death by 1,000 cuts” strategy, but there are a few decisive finishers in the deck. Bloodchief Ascension is easy to turn on and absolutely melts life totals when it’s active.
The commander also turns Peer into the Abyss into an auto-kill against one player.
There’s also a route to victory that relies on being the only one able to play Magic, and it’s where the true degeneracy of the deck comes in. Notion Thief and Narset, Parter of Veils turn wheels into Wit's End for your opponents, and leave you as the only person holding cards in your hand.
Commander all-star Cyclonic Rift is also exceptionally back-breaking here since you can time an overloaded Rift perfectly then wheel away all the cards your opponents picked up without giving them a chance to reset. It’s truly malicious stuff.
Wash Out gives you a secondary way to do this, just be careful not to bounce too much of your own board.
The Mana Base
You’ve got a standard Grixis () mana base here with a handful of spicy utility lands. The general color-fixing is centered around a trio of shock lands, Battlebond duals, and MID/VOW duals, with the customary tri-lands and universal mana-fixing from cards like Fabled Passage and Path of Ancestry.
I’m an Ash Barrens believer in 3+ color decks, and here it helps proc discard triggers at instant speed.
It’s not a land, but Crucible of Worlds works wonders in this deck. Since you’re pitching hands for new ones every other turn, you’re bound to have lands in your graveyard. You can keep your hand stocked for your mass discard effects while ensuring you hit lands from your graveyard.
Your first goal with the deck is to set up your board. Deploy mana rocks as you would with any other deck and stick Nekusar, the Mindrazer as early as possible. If the coast isn’t clear for your commander, try jamming non-creature permanents like Underworld Dreams or Feast of Sanity instead. You don’t have much incentive to start wheeling until one of your payoffs is on board, so there’s a certain order of operations that needs to be followed.
Most wheels refill your hand, so you’re highly incentivized to empty your hand quickly and maximize the card advantage you get from a draw-7. Remember that you have tools like aftermath and flashback cards that work from your graveyard, so prioritize casting spells that are dead once you discard them.
Combos and Interactions
The most blatant and devastating combo this deck can pull off is Narset, Parter of Veils plus a wheel. Your opponents draw one card each, and you draw seven. Notion Thief can fill in for Narset and put you up 28 cards instead, if that’s more your speed. No one’s going to sit around and let this happen though, so expect to be attacked any time Narset or Thief hit the board.
Peer into the Abyss is essentially a one-card kill shot with Nekusar, the Mindrazer on board. It usually forces a player to draw 30-40 cards, cut their life in half, and ping them for each card they drew. It’s a good way to close out the game once it’s just you vs. one other player.
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph turns any instance of one damage into three instead, so look for damage-based pings. It’s here for its interaction with Nekusar, but it also works with Kederekt Parasite, Feast of Sanity, Spiteful Visions, and Underworld Dreams.
Scroll Rack gives you a way to retain certain cards in your hand through all your wheeling. You can Rack away the cards you want to keep, resolve a wheel effect, and draw right back into the cards you put on top of your library.
Look for opportunities to turn Blue Sun's Zenith against your opponents. It’s a decent draw spell if you need to refill your hand the traditional way, but it can target opponents and force draws they might not want. Firing it off during someone’s end step might force them to discard down to hand size, which can trigger your Waste Not or Tourach, Dread Cantor.
Rule 0 Violations Check
A word of warning to the squeamish: this isn’t a friendly deck. Aside from the Howling Mine effect on Nekusar, there’s nothing benevolent about your gameplan. You’ve got ways to steal your opponents’ draws, lock them out of tutors, and mass discard their entire hands. If your opponents look miserable, your deck is probably working.
However, I wouldn’t say this is a problematic deck that warrants a pre-game discussion, even if some elements of the deck are known groan-factors. The Narset, Parter of Veils combo can put players out of a game entirely and shut off their avenues back in. Similarly, Ashiok, Dream Render has multiple negative effects for your opponents and has caused some issues for me with past playgroups. Gee, thanks War of the Spark planeswalkers.
All-in-all, the deck is pretty frail, the commander is expensive, and it takes a decent amount of set-up. Most of the problems I could foresee players having are mostly non-issues and just natural gameplay elements.
As always, my deck guides have room for budget upgrades and downsizing depending on your stipulations. You can always increase the consistency of the deck with Fierce Guardianship or Mana Vault, but I tend to leave the highly competitive cards on the sidelines for the average player.
There are some pricey cards in the list, but I’ve got some alternatives ready for you. The big hitter is Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, clocking in just below a cool $100 at the time of writing. It’s powerful, but it’s just an amplified version of the effects that make up most of your deck. Another wheel, another damage doubler, you take your pick and it’s probably a fine substitution for DMU’s big baddie.
Cyclonic Rift is devastating, but you can find alternative mass bounce effects. What you don’t want to do is play a symmetrical bounce effect like Evacuation. The whole point is to force opponents to wheel away their board; you don’t want to do that to yourself. Wash Out does a fine job, but you might consider River's Rebuke, Mystic Confluence, or Baral's Expertise as Cyc Rift alternatives.
Of course, the mana base is yours to adjust as you see fit. Got OG duals or fetches and want to play them here? Awesome, it’ll give you a small edge with consistency. Only have the scratch for a set of guildgates and Evolving Wilds? You know what, that’ll do just fine. As long as you’re not planning on entering your local cEDH tournament, budget mana bases are perfectly reasonable.
Let’s look at three alternative ways to build around Nekusar, the Mindrazer. The least intuitive is to lean into Nekusar’s creature types. Zombies and wizards are heavily supported across the Grixis colors, and it wouldn’t be too strange to build a tribal deck with Nekusar at the helm to keep the cards flowing. There are certainly better Grixis zombie commanders (Thraximundar, Sedris, the Traitor King) and Grixis wizards (Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Kess, Dissident Mage), but Nekusar is certainly an option.
The second build is going to probably cause some shifty looks in your general direction. You can run Nekusar as a “group hug” commander, leaning into the extra card draw elements of the deck. The quotations around “group hug” are deliberate, because not everyone’s going to buy that you have their best interests in mind if you’re dealing them damage as you draw them into new cards. Maybe leave Narset, Parter of Veils on the sidelines if this is the direction you choose.
The cruelest way to build this deck is to capitalize on Nekusar’s damage-dealing ability by granting it infect and poisoning people out of the game. All it takes is Tainted Strike or Phyresis and a wheel or two and everyone dies. Fun times. This isn’t really an “infect deck” in the traditional sense, more of a straight combo deck with infect as a win-con. But players have a visceral reaction towards poison, so be cognizant of the tables you bring this build to.
Take the Wheel
Feast of Sanity | Illustration by Jim Pavelec
This deck has enough wheeling and dealing action to make you dizzy. Players will be drawing constantly, filling up graveyards, taking damage, and unfortunately, probably attacking you. It’s what you sign up for when you show up to a table with Notion Thief in your deck. Nekusar, the Mindrazer isn’t a format-defining commander anymore, but it can still bring the pain.
How have you faired with Nekusar these days? Apologies if I unlocked any unfortunate memories with the card, but I’d love to hear any fun Nekusar stories you might have. Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord.
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