Nath of the Gilt-Leaf was not the first EDH deck I built, and it's not even my oldest deck. However, it is my oldest deck that's never had a change of commander and it's one of my more finely-tuned decks. Building this deck was my first attempt at playing stax and my first attempt at consciously getting more competitive with my deck-building. So, I finally decided to make a post about this pet project of mine and hopefully get some more people to add black to their elf decks!
This deck started when I bought the mono-green pre-con in 2014. I had been considering building Nath for some time, and the pre-con had a lot of the Elf staples that I didn't own. I bought the deck, threw in some swamps and some other black cards and sleeved it up. At first the deck was, like most first-draft decks, pretty bad. Between my mediocre collection and my inexperience as a deck-builder and player, my first 99 was a mess. But, despite the deck not being great, I loved my new commander. The discard elements provided the feeling of control I enjoyed when playing Magic and the army of elves I could build satisfied my inner Tammy who just wanted to turn creatures sideways. I knew I had found the deck deserving of my time to refine over time and make into something great.
Over time, I fine-tuned the deck. I focused a lot on the discard effects and the Elf-tribal theme. I had a few sacrifice elements with cards like Attrition, but the early version of the deck was mostly just about building a big army and smashing faces. Eventually, I reached a point where I didn't know how to go any further. Maybe it was just a sign of my limitations as a player, but I felt like I had reached a plateau in the deck's power level. Up until that point, I was still pretty opposed to "net-decking." To me, deck-building was an opportunity to be creative and I was worried that just copying decks online would dilute that. However, I really wanted the deck to get better so I finally gave in and started reading about how other people built their Nath decks. And that's when I was introduced to stax. Stax gave my deck more of a focus and, more importantly, a more competitive edge. This was when the deck began to take the form most like what it is today. I still got to turn creatures sideways, but now I could do so while making my opponents suffer
But Why Nath?
You Might Like Playing Nath If...
...you like playing stax and other resource-denial strategies.
...you like to have a lot of creatures on the board...
...but you don't like your opponents to have any creatures.
...you like the Elf tribe but you want to play more than one color.
You Might Not Like Playing Nath If...
...denying other people resources is not your cup of tea.
...you don't want to put creatures on the battlefield.
...you like to interact with spells on the stack.
...you are playing on a budget.
Agent of Erebos: Entirely a meta call for my list, but it's still a card that I think deserves more attention than it gets. Graveyard hate is important for any deck, as recursion strategies run rampant in this format. This card is graveyard hate on a stick that can hit multiple times. It's also tutorable at instant speed with Chord of Calling, a niche use that's actually been helpful in at least one game.
Creakwood Liege: This card serves two purposes. One, it spits out tokens that we can sacrifice to things like Contamination. Two, it pumps up all of our creatures to get in some extra damage. My only real concern with this card is it's a non-bo with Skullclamp.
Deathrite Shaman: He's graveyard hate. He's a mana dork. He can gain you a little life and drain your opponents. This card is a heavy hitter across many formats and for good reason. The elf synergy is just icing on the cake.
Elvish Archdruid: Another mana dork, and one that can provide a ton of mana. He also pumps all of our elves for the aggro kill.
Eternal Witness: A green staple. Sometimes the things we need end up in the graveyard. The lady helps us get them back.
Ezuri, Renegade Leader: One of our win-cons. This guy, plus a lot of elves, plus a lot of mana from one of our big dorks or Gaea's Cradle can end games quickly. He can also protect our elves, but if he's hitting the battlefield, we're probably about to win anyway.
Joraga Warcaller: A late-game mana-sink and a win-con when we have a lot of elves on the field. Honestly, this is one of the cards near the top of the "Possible Cuts" list.
Llanowar Elves: The OG mana dork. Not much else to say about this guy.
Reclamation Sage: Spot removal and elf-tribal synergy rolled into one. Becomes instant-speed removal with Chord of Calling and is tutorable with Elvish Harbinger
Sadistic Hypnotist: One of the most important cards in the deck, and the first one people usually suggest when Nath is mentioned. And for good reason. With Nath on the field, the Hypnotist's ability becomes "all opponents discard their hands." As lone as you have an initial creature to sacrifice, Nath will make two more tokens when the opponent discards. Rinse and repeat and you end up with a lot of elves and a bunch of opponents in top-deck mode.
Sheoldred, Whispering One: Currently the only card in the deck with a CMC over five, and I have a feeling it'll stay that way. Of course, she has a huge target on her back, but if she can make it around even once, she clears a lot off your opponents' boards and brings one of your own creatures back. Totally worth the mana investment.
Crucible of Worlds: A multi-purpose card. With a fetch land, this one guarantees we hit out land drop every turn. With an effect like Smokestack, it makes sure we always have something to sacrifice. And with Strip Mine, it makes sure you lose a few friends. Unfortunately, not a very budget-friendly card at the moment.
Geth's Grimoire: Our opponents will hopefully be discarding a lot of cards, making this a potent source of card draw. Also, this with Words of Waste and a little bit of mana investment can clear all of our opponents' hands at once.
Golgari Signet/Sol Ring: The two mana rocks in the deck. Most of our ramp is in ramp spells and mana dorks but these help, too.
Lightning Greaves: This is mainly protection for our big target creatures, especially Nath himself. It's also a nice combo with The Abyss because it allows us to keep a crucial creature on the field since we can't target the equipped creature with the trigger.
Nevinyrral's Disk: Because sometimes everything needs to die. Granted, this isn't the most efficient boardwipe, nor do we have any way to abuse it, like Darksteel Forge. The big reason it's stuck around this long is I have a German black-boarded printing and I love the old art.
Sensei's Divining Top: Not much new to say about the top. It's card draw and card filtering and it's a pain to deal with. Since we don't do much at instant speed, this sometimes feels redundant when Sylvan Library is on the field, so I've been considering cutting it.
Smokestack: One of the stax staples. Even if this lasts only a few turn cycles, the effect can be back-breaking. An important nuance to remember if you don't usually play with this card - the triggers are separate, meaning that during your own upkeep, you can have the sacrifice trigger resolve before the "add a counter" trigger so that you're always sacrificing one less than the number of counters that end up on the card.
Sphere of Resistance: Another stax staple. This card is best when it comes out early to help slow down the game while we set up our board.
Tangle Wire: And another stax staple. Like Sphere of Resistance, this card slows down our opponents in the early game in order to buy us time to set up. Similar to Smokestack, you can stack the triggers during your upkeep such that a counter is removed and then you tap things. Another important point to remember is you can tap Tangle Wire itself as part of its ability.
Torpor Orb: One of those cards that's useless against a few decks, but so crucial against others that it's worth running. There are a ton of ETB triggers in this format and the Orb shuts them all down. Often this card is the cement in our lock, cutting off the only chance our opponent had for survival.
Winter Orb: Yet another brown stax staple. This card slows things down more than all the others. This is best played when we have mana dorks or a big land like Gaea's Cradle to break the symmetry on its tap-down effect.
Attrition: Removal and a sac outlet. With a token producer, this card helps to keep the field pretty empty. A weird rules note that trips some up some people: unfortunately you can't hit two creatures for one opponent with this and Grave Pact. You will make everyone sacrifice a creature, but the controller of the creature targeted by Attrition's ability can just sac that creature before Attrition resolves.
Awakening Zone: This card serves two purposes: ramp and fodder. It's a token-producer when we need tokens, and it's ramp when we need ramp. What's not to love. Side note: it was a very conscious decision to run this over From Beyond. Though FB gives us 1/1s over 0/1s, because this serves as ramp, it's really important for it to come down a turn earlier.
Beastmaster Ascension: One of our win-cons. With the number of tokens this deck can spit out, this card often becomes active in one or two swings.
Bitterblossom: More token production. The fairies also have some evasion, meaning they're better than other tokens for getting in the small, incremental damamge over time.
Bottomless Pit: One of the more back-breaking discard effects in the deck. The random discard really hurts and this strips our opponents of resources very quickly. When playing this card though, you just have to be careful that you don't have anything in your hand that you absolutely cannot lose, since the effect is symmetric.
Call to the Grave: Another card to make sure our opponents can't keep creatures on the board. Sure, it doesn't hit zombies, but that's basically never relevant. This is another place where token producers become important because a constant stream of tokens means this enchantment isn't going away.
Contamination: In the right match-up, this is just a one-card lock. You'd be surprised how few people run colorless removal. The perfect set-up for this card is a token producer to make sure it sticks around, and a mana dork or rock to make sure you can still have access to G. Unfortunately, this is a non-bo with Gaea's Cradle, since it changes the color AND amount of mana produced by all lands but that's a small price to pay for an effect like this.
Cryptolith Rite: A relatively new addition to the deck but it's already proved its worth. By turning all of the tokens we make into mana dorks, this card can ramp us far ahead of our opponents.
Doublin Season: A little pricey at 5 mana but more than worth it. This card takes our token production and pushes it up to eleven. We also run a few planeswalkers, which have great synergy with this card (ulting Vraska and making 6 assassins the turn she comes down, any one?) It also has synergy with Tangle Wire, making the card come in with 8 counters and really slowing the game to a halt.
Grave Pact: Another way to keep creatures off the field. We run quite a few sac outlets and this helps them double as removal. It also synergizes with Call to the Grave-like effects, effectively doubling the number of creatures our opponents lose.
Mind Slash: This card combines a sac outlet with a potent discard effect. Targeted discard effects are woefully inefficient in multiplayer, and this and Sadisitic Hypnotist are really the only single discard effects worth running. Not only do we get to see our opponents hand, we can also remove the best card in there. And, if you have Nath on the board, how many cards our opponents discard is only limited to how much black mana you can produce.
Song of the Dryads: Unique and potent removal. This card helps neutralize whatever the biggest threat is on the board regardless of card type or indestructibility. Does one of your friends run a troublesome commander like Purphoros, God of the Forge? Poof! Now he's a tree.
Sylvan Library: Card filtering and, at the cost of some life, extra card draw.
The Abyss: Yet another card to clear our opponents' boards. Yet another card to feed our tokens to. I feel the need to point out that this effect is NOT sacrifice. It is targeted destruction where the creature's controller chooses the target but the enchantment does the targetting. This means your opponents can't choose creatures with hexproof and no one can choose creatures with protection from black or shroud. Anyone can, however, choose a creature with indestructible. It just means nothing will happen.
Waste Not: A huge value card with all of the discarding your opponents will be doing. Of the three effects, the mana isn't super important, since we don't do a lot at instant speed. However the other two effects are more than worth it, even on their own. Important to note that, unlike Geth's Grimoire, this card's draw effect does not say "may," so if it's relevant, you cannot choose not to draw.
Words of Waste: Another discard effect. As I mentioned in the artifact section, this can be used with Geth's Grimoire to clear all of our opponents' hands. It can also turn Geier Reach Sanitarium into "we discard one, everyone else draws one, discards two."
Barter in Blood: Psedu-mass removal. If there aren't a ton of creatures on the board (and with this deck, there often aren't), this gets them all. I run this over Innocent Blood just because it goes wider. IB is better if you want to tighten the mana curve even more.
Death Cloud: This card wipes creatures from the board while also slashing your opponents' resources. Even with X = 1 or 2, this card can really hurt. Just a note: unfortunately, if you have Nath on the field, you can't sac the elves that Nath makes from the discard to Death Cloud's sac effect.
Dimir Machinations: This card is left over from when I was still building on a budget. There are so many crucial cards at CMC 3 in this deck, that this just becomes a 3-mana Demonic Tutor. There's also the niche-use of getting rid of something an opponent put on top of their deck, but I think I've maybe used that card for that purpose once since I added it to the list. This could (and probably should) be replaced by a more efficient tutor.
Exsanguinate: As I said above, this serves as a mana-sink when we have infinitie mana but honestly, it can be nice to have in the mid-game, too if you can't quite close the lock and your life total is looking a little low.
Pox: It's like Death Cloud but even more efficient. Everything I said about the cloud applies here. Pay close attention to the "rounded up" part, as there's a big difference between playing this with 9 lands as there is with playing it with 10 lands (33% of your lands vs. 40% of your lands.)
Harrow: It's ramp at instant-speed. Honestly, now that I'm running Gaea's Cradle, this should probably be Crop Rotation. Just make sure it won't get countered, as sacing the land is part of the cost.
Putrefy: I don't care what anyone says, sometimes you just need spot removal, even in this format. Unfortunately, we can't be as efficient as Vindicate, so hitting creatures or artifacts will have to suffice.
Warping Wail: I'm still sort of testing this card out and I'm not totally sold on it. Obviously, I never see me using the create a token node. Mostly, it's there for the surprise factor of countering an important sorcery, but exiling a creature could have its use, too.
Currently, the only card I'm testing is Null Brooch in place of Agent of Erebos. The Agent was largely a meta call, and my meta has changed since I added it, so he's been feeling less important. Since this deck often puts all players, including ourselves, into top-deck mode, Null Brooch seems like a way to make sure our opponents can't break out of a lock. My concerns with the card are it's a terrible early-game card and it's really only useful when we're already ahead.
Glad you liked the deck! I should probably add a "budget replacements" to the main post. Here are my thoughts on the most expensive cards:
The Abyss: These "sac a creature during your upkeep" variants are important to the deck and you want some redundancy. Thankfully cards like Call to the Grave and Magus of the Abyss are pretty cheap. Your best bet instead of The Abyss would probably be Anowon, the Ruin Sage. I actually ran him in the past and he works pretty well. I cut him because he costs 5 and being a creature means he's easier to remove, but for a budget alternative, you don't lose much.
Gaea's Cradle: Unfortunately, there isn't a good replacement for this. The deck can function without it, it is just much more efficient with the Cradle. I guess Cabal Coffers is the next best thing as far as big mana lands go. It's not exactly a budget card, but it's significantly cheaper than the Cradle
Crucible of Worlds: Honestly, the deck can function pretty well without this. It's a unique effect, so I don't really have a budget replacement, but you won't lose a ton by cutting it. I'm just so glad I picked one up when they were $20...