Conditions Allow - Near-Death Experience EDH

Ben Doolittle • January 23, 2023

(Near-Death Experience | Art by Dan Scott)

Only Mostly Dead

Hello, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I take a card with a drawback and build a Commander deck to turn it into a strength. Last time, I talked about a six-mana white enchantment, so it only made sense to continue the trend, except this time, I'm not talking about fresh beginnings, but hard-won victories, with Near-Death Experience.

Much like Barren Glory, Near-Death Experience wants you to get as close as possible to edge of disaster. In this case, however, that means going into your upkeep with exactly one life left. While this is much less all-in than Barren Glory, it is just as risky. From Blood Artist to Guttersnipe, there are any number of ways to lose with just one life.

Counting Down

There are also any number of ways to get down to one life. Looking at decklists online, Near-Death Experience decks are full of creatures that let you pay as much life as you want to. Blood Celebrant and Mischievous Poltergeist can repeatedly activate their abilities, while Plunge into Darkness does it all at once. Other cards, like Worldfire and Soulgorger Orgg, simply set your life total directly to one, so you could win by casting Worldfire with Academy Rector in play; I just built a similar combo deck. Let's see if we can't find another approach.

One of Magic's oldest adages is that your life is a resource, and no card exemplifies that better than Dark Confidant. Except maybe Bolas's Citadel, or Sylvan Library, or Stronghold Arena...

It turns out, Magic players love to pay life to draw cards, which works out perfectly if you're trying to win with Near-Death Experience. With cards like Black Market Connections ensuring you never run out of cards or mana, you can guarantee that you'll eventually draw that all-important enchantment and never run out of tricks to stay alive.

In addition to trading life for cards, we'll also abuse cards that trade life for mana. Along with big, flashy creatures, like Beledros Witherbloom, this also includes a mana base full of fetch, shock, and pain lands. I'm also excited to have a home for Marshland Bloodcaster. This creature makes it easy to surprise your opponents with interaction they weren't expecting, or to cast the extra spell you need to win a turn early.

Of course, winning will probably require you to have more direct control over your life total than just drawing cards and making mana. That's where Wall of Blood, Mischievous Poltergeist, and Plunge into Darkness come in. Each can drop your life total to one at instant speed, perfect for winning with Near-Death Experience. Phyrexian Processor is a little more limited in its timing, but creating large tokens is an alternate win condition all its own, and a timely Teferi's Protection or Angel's Grace will keep you alive until your next turn.

Staying Alive

One of the bigger risks to winning with Near-Death Experience is, once again, the timing of it. If your enchantment is destroyed before your turn, you're left at one life without much of a backup plan. You could get tricky with Academy Rector to get around this, but I'm opting for a more direct approach with defensive spells, like Boros Charm. Teferi's Protection is, obviously, much better because it protects your life total, but we've got other tools for that as well.

I've already mentioned Angel's Grace, but sometimes a more proactive approach is better. As long as you control a creature, Worship prevents any damage from taking you below one life. The Golden Throne takes that a step further by preventing you from losing once. That means you can't be milled, and loss of life won't get you either. Lastly, Angel of Grace is also here to bestow her grace personally.

Unexpected Circumstances

If, despite all this protection, Near-Death Experience is destroyed, or you don't feel confident enough to go all the way down to your last life point, we do have a few backup plans. The easiest is Repay in Kind, which simply sets all players' life totals equal to the lowest life total. From there you can attack with tokens from Phyrexian Processor and Black Market Connections, or win with a big Comet Storm.

The second backup plan is Axis of Mortality. This enchantment works more slowly than Repay in Kind, but it's also more flexible. If you're set up with Dark Tutelage and Black Market Connections, you can swap life totals to regain some life and continue accruing advantage. Or you can use it more aggressively, lowering opponents' life totals and starting to take them out.

Choosing A Leader

Which brings me to an unusual position: I usually have a commander in mind before reaching the end of these articles, but this deck should function reasonably well with just about anyone in charge. Most of the cards are black and white, and Selenia, Dark Angel is a popular commander for Near-Death Experience according to EDHREC. But I don't want this to be a combo deck, and I do want to include a few red and green cards.

Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper and Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder may be odd commanders for a deck that wants to lower its life total, but I've come to really like them. First and foremost, there is no way to tutor for Near-Death Experience in this deck. It's entirely possible to run out of life points before you ever draw it. Both of these commanders help you stretch your life total as far as you need to. They also play extremely well with Repay in Kind, essentially flipping the table dynamic where you have plenty of life and your opponents are in danger. And finally, there are plenty of ways to drop your life directly to one, so you'll never be far from a Near-Death Experience.

Near-Death Experience

Commander (2)
Creatures (13)
Enchantments (8)
Artifacts (13)
Instants (20)
Sorceries (7)
Lands (37)

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I wanted to avoid overlap between this deck and my Barren Glory deck, and I think I've succeeded. One of the major strengths of this deck is that it doesn't show its hand until the very last moment. Most of the cards here are cards you would play anyway. Some players might look sideways at you as you pay your life away, but they won't be expecting Near-Death Experience until you cast it.

But what do you think? Have you brewed around Near-Death Experience before? Are there are cards or synergies I've overlooked? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.