Bolas’s master plan was stopped just in time. The price was steep, but Gideon’s sacrifice may have been necessary.
After all, with Nicol Bolas’s static ability, he may have been able to leech Gideon’s indestructible powers and survive in the end. This reminds me of the TV series Heroes, where keeping away the regenerative cheerleader from the power-stealing Sylar was a major plot point. With his death, Gideon may have saved the multiverse in multiple ways.
What if Nicol Bolas Had Every Possible Loyalty Ability?
Let’s suppose that Nicol Bolas had every single loyalty ability of all planeswalkers ever printed. This can be closely approximated by imagining a setting where your opponent(s) control all planeswalkers ever printed, and then Nicol Bolas comes down on your side of the battlefield. What can he accomplish?
After reviewing all abilities—it would be fun to see the drop-down menu on Magic Online or Arena—I believe the key is to get Bolas up to at least 5 loyalty. There are several ways to accomplish that. Some, like Oath of Gideon or Oath of Teferi, would be a flavor fail. Others, such as using Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh’s +2 ability to hit Time Walk, would require extreme luck. But there is a clean and flavorful way to get Nicol Bolas up to 5 loyalty right away.
Let’s go with that.
So now that Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God has 5 loyalty, what’s next?
According to the rules of Magic, Jace’s -5 effectively reads: “create two non-legendary copies of this.” In other words, Nicol Bolas can use this ability to make two copies of himself.
So we have two Bolas copies with 4 loyalty each—now what?
Bolas copy #1 uses Ajani’s -2 to get Bolas copy #2 up to 5 loyalty. Then Bolas copy #2 uses Jace’s -5 ability to make two copies. This cycle continues until there are millions of Bolas copies, all with increasing numbers of loyalty counters.
But all of them have already used a loyalty ability this turn, and at any point we only have at most two “fresh” Bolas copies. Is there still a way to win this turn?
Yes, there is, assuming that we can ignore the static abilities of Ashiok, Dream Render and Karn, the Great Creator. If our opponents controlled those, then it would be flavorful to assume that we hold The Elderspell in hand.
In this case, Bolas copy #1 uses Teferi, Temporal Archmage’s -1 to generate mana, The Elderspell harvests Ashiok and Karn for Bolas copy #2, and Bolas copy #2 activates Jace’s -5 to create two copies.
We are now ready for the grand finale.
Bolas copy #1 uses Teferi’s -1 to untap four lands, which generates 4 mana.
Then Bolas #2 activates Tezzeret’s -X for X=4 to search for The Chain Veil. I’m not quite sure how this would work lore-wise—wasn’t the Chain Veil worn by Liliana?— but the rules of the game allow it.
Then, with the 4 floating mana, the Chain Veil gets activated, unlocking the abilities of millions of Nicol Bolas copies.
We now have millions of planeswalkers with millions of loyalty counters, each of which can be activated for any loyalty ability you want. For example, Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver’s -11. Enjoy being the master of the universe.
(Just make sure you don’t accidentally misclick Karn Liberated’s -14.)
What is a Good Standard Mana Base for a Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God Deck?
Moving from silly “what if” scenarios to relevant strategy, I wanted to round out this article by building a Standard mana base for Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. Here is my 26 land suggestion, which can easily support Thought Erasure, Cry of the Carnarium, and Bedevil as well:
4 Blood Crypt 4 Dragonskull Summit 4 Drowned Catacomb 3 Steam Vents 3 Sulfur Falls 4 Watery Grave 4 Swamp
According to a quick simulation, any such 26 land mana base with four, five, or six Swamps (and six, five, or four Izzet duals, respectively) have between a 95% and 96% probability of casting Nicol Bolas on-curve (conditional on drawing at least five lands, after mulligans, on the play, by turn 5, barring card draw). You would drop to 93.3% with only three Swamps. The probability is maximized with five Swamps, but the difference with four Swamps is small, and you gain more from the 14th blue source for a turn 2 Thought Erasure than from the 21st black source.
I am not sure what the best mix of spells will be for Grixis Control, but Nicol Bolas is surely a big part of it. Now we just have to hope to get paired against a Bant deck with Jace and Ajani…