After having seen much of Amonkhet, my favorite card so far is a quiet little black uncommon. Nest of Scarabs says that you get a 1/1 black Insect creature token for every -1/-1 counter you put on a creature. This isn't a token for every time you put counters on a creature or a token for each creature you put tokens on, but a token for every counter you put on a creature. Now a card like Skinrender not only adds three -1/-1 counters, but gives you three 1/1 Insect Tokens on top of that! Serrated Arrows taps to put a -1/-1 counter on a creature, and create a 1/1 Insect! In the right deck, Nest of Scarabs is going to be unbelievable! And it asks for counters and token creatures, two of my favorite things in Magic! Let's try and put that deck together!
Let's go big right off! The downside of Black Sun's Zenith has always been that it tends to cost a lot. This limits how quickly you can come back after the board wipe. If you need to spend nine mana to wipe the board, you likely don't have any way to play creatures the same turn. This means that you are the last one to get started rebuilding, so Zenith often seems like a reset button as opposed to being a way to give you an advantage.
Nest of Scarabs fixes that. Assuming there are only eight creatures on the board, Black Sun's Zenith for seven nets you 56 1/1 Insects. Realistically speaking, you are going to kill far more creatures than that or you probably wouldn't have used Black Sun's Zenith. The dream is to hit the token player who happens to have a ton of tokens ready to go!
Of course, if you have had the Nest out for a while, you might be the token player, sitting there with ten 1/1 Insects. Suddenly giving every creature even just three or four -1/-1 counters is going to make for a killing blow of Insects on your next turn!
These cards each put -1/-1 counters on creatures during your upkeep. This is a slower process than Black Sun's Zenith, but it is a slow and steady death. It should be noted that Harbinger of Night gives -1/-1 counters to your Insects, although this isn't really an issue. It just means Nest of Scarabs will replace them with new Insects, albeit it without the ability to attack that turn. Midnight Banshee only targets non-black creatures. This means that the Banshee can do this for every upkeep until it is gone, while the Harbinger of Night is a 2/3 and gets a -1/-1 counter from its own ability, so it will need some help sticking around if you are looking for something longer than three turns.
If the Harbinger of Night needs help, Heartmender is there to provide it. It will remove a -1/-1 counter from each creature you control. Stack the triggers on your upkeep, and your Harbinger and Heartmender get a counter, then lose a counter, while your Insects get a counter and die before the Heartmender trigger, giving you a bunch of new Insects. Heartmender is also handy in decks that aren't quite as dedicated to the combo, like most Commander decks, so you can keep your creatures around without taking more Collateral Damage than you want.
Creatures with Undying tend to like -1/-1 counters. When they die, they come back with a +1/+1 counter. Give them a -1/-1 counter and the counters Cancel, and they can undie again. The best part is the Nest will trigger, giving you another 1/1 Insect!
If you don't like the idea of seeing all of your Insects (and other more valuable creatures) die repeatedly when you mass dump -1/-1 counters on everything, Melira is probably your strongest defense. Now you aren't relying on running only creatures with undying or a Heartmender that only handles one -1/-1 counter per turn. The options for the rest of the creatures in your deck goes way up. Pestilence Demon or Harbinger of Night will never kill themselves!
Most of the cards I've looked at have been from sets in the past, but Archfiend of Ifnir works really well here. If you cycle or discard a card, you put a -1/-1 counter on every creature your opponents control. Assuming a four-player game, you are probably looking at somewhere between 10-15 creatures your opponents control. All you need to do is discard one card and you get 10-15 1/1 Insects. Assuming you do nothing else, 15 Insects will take you a long ways towards victory.
If you add in some ways to loot, and you'll churn a ton of Insects!
Once the counters are out there, simply proliferate. You'll add more counters and more Insects! This is particularly effective if you are trying the Infect route, since you can also proliferate the poison counters, you are getting extra effectiveness! Speaking of which…
The idea here is to rely on your creatures to do damage in combat. Since they deal their damage with -1/-1 counters, either they'll hit and do damage, or get blocked and you'll get a bunch of 1/1 creatures.
The difficulty with this plan is that infect decks, even in multiplayer games, tend to want to win quickly. You want ways to pump your smaller infect creatures and attack unblocked to kill off your opponents quickly. Nest of Scarabs doesn't really help with that plan other than to give you a few creatures to chump block with or possibly sacrifice to make your infect creatures bigger.
I would tend to want to run Blight Sickle, and a creature that does damage to multiple creatures like Pestilence Demon. This will give us even more counters than the Archfiend of Ifnir would! The downside is that this requires two cards. Perhaps it would just be easier to run Carnifex Demon? Now if there was some way to add counters to Carnifex Demon…
This card just multiplies the issues for your opponents. If you have a way to put -1/-1 counters on their creatures, you'll get a bunch of Insect Tokens. If you have a way to put -1/-1 counters on your Insect Tokens, such as Harbinger of Night or Carnifex Demon, Blowfly Infestation gives you more counters and more Insects! Here's how we do it.
Using your Carnifex Demon, spend one black mana to put -1/-1 counters on all the creatures. Even if we assume that this kills none of the creatures, you still get that many Insect counters. Let's say you only put five counters out and received five Insects.
Using the Demon again. This time you put out 10 -1/-1 counters because of the five creatures and five more Insects. All the Insects die, and you get 10 new insects. Blowfly Infestation kicks in, giving you five -1/-1 counters to put on other creatures, also getting five more Insects from the Nest. Put one of those -1/-1 counters on Carnifex Demon.
Use the Demon a third time. Your 15 Insects die, and you get at least 15 more Insects and have 15 more -1/-1 counters to kill your opponents' creatures with, which will get you 15 more Insects and probably more -1/-1 counters that will end your opponents' creatures.
This can be brutally effective. However, we can do better.
Note: This card and Deadeye Navigator show up in practically every article that is looking at ways to abuse cards to the point where I urge you to just assume that I mentioned just how stupid it is, even when I didn't.
Take the Carnifex Demon (I really just want to call him the Carfax Demon, but he doesn't look like a fox at all) scenario we just went through and add Doubling Season. You are spending one black mana for one (no, double that, two!) -1/-1 counters on every creature. Nest sees all those counters and gives you that many Insects, and Doubling Season doubles that too. With only five opposing creatures, one black mana puts out 10 -1/-1 counters, which then becomes 20 Insects. I'll leave you to do the math when you spend another black mana with at least 20 creatures on the battlefield.
Yeah, that was with just two black mana. I threw up a little in my mouth too.
Nest of Scarabs is a ridiculous enabler that doesn't do a whole lot unless you really work to make it happen, but I intend to give it a shot and I hope you will too. And you really don't have to wait until Amonkhet is released to get started. Flourishing Defenses does basically the same thing, but it is green and costs two more mana. So get out there and get building! I'm confident that this little uncommon from this ancient Egypt-inspired set will see your Insect swarms quickly reach biblical proportions!