Are You Truly Devoted?

This week Michael Martin takes a look at what we might be able to do with Nykthos in Standard. See if you should play with the Shrine to Nyx at #SCGCLE!

"But m’lord, I’ve spent my whole life devoted to the worship of all of nature’s wonders!"

"I know; but the emissary from Burning-Tree shows more devotion than you . . . to both myself and Purphoros.

Step up your game, young druid." —Nylea, God of the Hunt

It all started with a decklist in Sam Black article talking about Theros planeswalkers. He was specifically talking about the impact of Xenagos, the Reveler with this list, but it was the cool things that could be done with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx that got me interested.

That list, for reference:

I went home and immediately went about testing the list against some of the known decks, including the B/W/R and B/R lists talked about by Gerry Thompson last week. I was incredibly impressed at how the deck performed against a deck playing Anger of the Gods and Dreadbores.

Polukranos, World Eater was actually one of the cards that impressed me the most. Boros Reckoner was a huge problem for a deck chock full of 2/2s, 2/1s, and 1/1s, but if you could play a Polukranos then "ultimate" the devourer of planets, how irrelevant is killing off an Elvish Mystic when you now have an 8/8 beast?

Ember Swallower was a card I immediately took to when it was spoiled; in a world where I presumed Sphinx’s Revelation would see ample play, the ability to put pressure on with a 7/8 while destroying three of their lands seemed really good. My only issue was the amount of time it would take to allow the Swallower to assume its ultimate form.

(Random thought that just hit me: instead of G/R Monsters, I think I’m going to start referring to it as Hunger Games, what with all the eating and swallowing going on.)

With Nykthos, though, that concern was easily put to rest. Voyaging Satyr and Burning-Tree Emissary when combined with Nykthos make getting to that mana threshold ridiculously easy in this deck. The first time you activate Nykthos changes forever how you view the mana cost of the permanents you play. You start thinking, "I really wish this Satyr Hedonist cost double green."

That is until you get those hands where you have this:

Burning-Tree Emissary Burning-Tree Emissary Zhur-Taa Druid Ember Swallower Xenagos, the Reveler Stomping Ground Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

You want to keep this. You know you do.

That brings up the biggest tension (and biggest reason I initially dismissed the card) with running Nykthos—it’s a colorless land that wants you to play the most color-intensive cards possible. It’s almost like Spiderman; Nykthos loves the Burning-Tree Emissarys and Boros Reckoners of the world, but they don’t love him back.

Until Nykthos is already awesome; then they absolutely love it.

But it’s too late; Nykthos already has what it needs.

So this creates a weird tension; how far do you take it? As awesome as Nykthos is, I don’t know if you can ever run four in a deck that wants to play it, which seems wrong. There are two obvious reasons. First, it’s legendary (though, as with Gaea’s Cradle, we see that this isn’t a huge negative and actually becomes a positive in some scenarios). Second is the fact that in a deck that makes full use of Nykthos, you want as little colorless mana requirements as possible while upping the devotion meter.

But then you draw less Nykthos . . . maybe you don’t even draw it at all!

Ok, we can just run more lands and include the fourth Nykthos as a spell rather than adding to our land count. 

But then you’re taking away another card that adds to the devotion count!

Ok, we can drop the Nykthos and add a Boros Reckoner. Sound good?

Now I’m not drawing enough Nykthos. Maybe I can cut these Garruk, Caller of Beasts to make sure I draw one.

So now we’re lowering the power level of the deck?

Sigh . . . .

I know it’s really not that complicated. You can simply run the cards, and there will occasionally be times where you have awkward mana situations. I got it; however, I still want to discover if it’s possible to ever run four Nykthos in a dedicated "Nykthos" deck. I’m not sure it is, but I intend to find out!

So let’s take a look at what we might be able to do with Nykthos in Standard. First, I’m going to look at the G/R deck from Sam Black article.

You know why?

Because it’s incredibly easy; just throw in some Burning-Tree Emissarys and watch the mana fly!

Emissary is a card that people want to play anyway, and now it adds to the awesomeness that is Nykthos. Remember how nutty those double Emissary draws were with Naya Blitz or R/G Aggro? Well, they’re just as nutty here—but for different reasons.

What I want to do first is list out what I think the Hunger Games deck should look like based on playing with it some, and then I want to go into some different variations that make use of Cabal Coffers 2.0.


Standard disclaimer about how the sideboard is mostly a shot in the dark given the unknown metagame.

I really liked the deck but hated drawing Mizzium Mortars in game 1; in Zvi Mowshowitz article about hypermana decks, rule six states that you either want a mana source or a threat. While I don’t know if this deck completely fits the moniker of "hypermana deck," I do think the end goal is the same. I could be wrong, but I’ve been running without the maindeck Mortars and have been pleased so far.

The threats we’re ramping into can win the game as well; while I think Polukranos is the weakest link in the dark in this regard, I do love what it brings to the table. If you accelerate quickly enough into it, Ember Swallower will wipe your opponent’s mana out and leave you with a 7/8 (and presumably some mana dorks to continue to press your advantage). Xenagos is essentially a planeswalker version of Bloodbraid Elf in my mind, as it costs four mana, gives you a hasted attacker, and leaves something else behind. I know the comparison isn’t perfect, but I’ve been just has happy casting Xenagos as I used to be casting Bloodbraid Elf (albeit without the randomness and excitement/trepidation).

Garruk, Close of Business more than impresses me every single time I cast it, drawing obscene amounts of cards. While you’re not in the market for its minus ability without Craterhoof Behemoth, simply drawing obscene amounts of cards every turn generally does the trick. I’ve yet to ultimate Mr. CoB, but even still I’ve yet to lose a game after Garruk closes up shop.

As for the sideboard, my initial thought is to try to push the deck more towards the land destruction route against control/midrange decks, so I’ve included Peak Eruptions; the ability to release Prometheus from his rocky prison only adds to my desire to run this rock star sideboard card. Think about the decks people are trying to run:

Grixis Control/Planeswalkers
B/W/R Midrange
B/R Midrange
U/R Control
U/W/R Control
G/R Monsters (the mirrorish)

Honestly, until the format fleshes out a lot, I’m probably not leaving home without my Eddie Van Halens any time soon.

Nylea’s Disciple is a card I want to try out in an event where I expect a lot of Mono-Red and B/R Aggro. The 3/3 body is relevant, is easy to cast early in a deck like this, and is nice early but backbreaking later in the game. It’s just cheap enough to come down before you die and save you from certain doom. At minimum it gains two life from its own devotion, but if you have some Emissarys lying around . . .

The other cards should be self-explanatory, with Stormbreath maybe needing some explanation. I do like some in the main, but they aren’t able to singlehandedly take down games like Ember Swallower can. While it does damage fast and in large chunks, that’s all it does. I do like taking out the Polukranoses post-board against control for more Dragons, though, so I included them.

With this deck, I’ve cast a turn 3 Garruk, Caller of Beasts followed by a turn 4 Ember Swallower that went monstrous in the same turn, leaving me with my mana dorks, Garruk, Nykthos, and Ember Swallower as a 7/8 and them with no lands.

And that wasn’t even the nuttiest thing I’ve ever done.

There was the game I cast Garruk, Caller of Beasts on turn 2.* Who says six mana is too much for a planeswalker?!

The deck can just play a normal game when it needs to; Xenagos provides a ton of mana when you’re in hypermana mode, but it is also a fine card to play and just keep adding 2/2 hasty Satyrs to the board. That pressure builds incredibly quickly. The one thing I hate is the lack of a true mana sink, but usually you have some monstrous creature lying around that could use some of that mana, so I’m ok with those few games you have a ton of Satyrs and Elves lying around with no purpose since they’re still able to attack.

It’s worth it when you make Ember Swallower go monstrous on turn 4 and watch as your opponent realizes that they’ve lost the game before taking their fourth turn.

Some other ideas I’ve been considering are Biomass Mutation and Rubblebelt Raiders. I don’t really think I’m in the market for a card like Rubblebelt Raiders, but I do like the devotion count added by the R/G rare. Biomass Mutation gives you another way to turn your obscene amounts of mana into a win, but I don’t know about it because sometimes your excess mana comes almost exclusively from your mana creatures and attacking with them takes away the usefulness of Mutation.

What other colors can we extend the revelry to?

When I first began looking at Nykthos and realized that Burning-Tree Emissary was awesome, I started looking for similar cards that could put in some good work with the Shrine. Here are some of the cards I’m looking at:

Nightveil Specter
Boros Reckoner
Burning-Tree Emissary
Rubblebelt Raiders
Kalonian Tusker
Dark Prophecy
Frostburn Weird
Arbor Colossus
Precinct Captain
Rakdos Shred-Freak

Among other cards. These cards push you into very specific color requirements, but the dual cards like Boros Reckoner, Nightveil Specter, and Frostburn Weird allow you to play two-color decks while gluing the devotion count for each color together.

Some of the rewards for devoting yourself include:

Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Hythonia the Cruel
Nylea’s Disciple
Master of Waves
Fanatic of Mogis
Abhorrent Overlord
Disciple of Phenax
Reverent Hunter
Karametra’s Acolyte

In addition to the obvious five Gods in Theros and the monstrous cards in Hunger Games.

We have to consider a couple of points though. First off, is it really worth building around a land that you probably can’t even play four of? Second, what happens when we don’t have Nykthos? Third, what happens when we do have Nykthos (in other words, what are we even going to do if we actually get Nykthos to produce obscene amounts of mana)? How much do we devote ourselves?

We also have to think about the effect of not having green; with green, you get to play Elvish Mystic, which actually helps fix your mana for Burning-Tree Emissary on turn 2 even if you have a Forest and Nykthos. You get colored mana from your creatures; you don’t get that in other colors. This is probably something we can get past, but it’s tough.

So first I want to look at playing mono-green and seeing if that provides enough benefit to not add the red. What do we gain?

Well, we get to play another double green mana enabler in Kalonian Tusker; while we can’t chain Burning-Tree Emissary into it and the Tusker doesn’t ramp our mana, it’s a solid attacker and a great enabler for devotion.

Karametra’s Acolyte gives us something no other color can; a near-replication of Nykthos’ effect. Since we’re devoting ourselves completely to green, the acolyte provides a nice effect, if not one we want a ton of. I’d play one or two, but I don’t want too many because they’re not winning the game on their own.

Obviously we’re still going to play Polukranos and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Since we’re playing Garruk and completely devoted to green, I actually think this could be the deck for Worldspine Wurm. That alone gets me excited.

What might this look like?

This list is very streamlined; it wants to get a bunch of mana with Nykthos and play something big. I know it seems like three Worldspine Wurms is a bit much and that it’s only there to be played with Garruk, but if you’ve ever used Nykthos (especially in conjunction with Voyaging Satyr), you know that eleven mana isn’t that much actually.

I mean, I’ve cast Polukranos and activated its monstrous ability for anywhere up to eleven in the same turn in real games. That’s 27 mana . . .

Makes eleven look like nothing.

Everything you ramp into has the potential to win the game, again abiding by the cardinal law of hypermana decks. I can’t rave enough about Garruk, Caller of Beasts; the card is, in fact, a beast. It’s even more ridiculous in this deck since everything not named Garruk, Nykthos, or Forest can be drawn from Garruk’s ability. Polukranos gives you a great way to interact with your opponent’s board, Kalonian Hydra just wins games on its own, and then there’s Worldspine Wurm.

I can’t imagine losing too many games where you get a quick Worldspine Wurm.

Another possibility is Big Red.

The biggest reason I want to try this deck out is Frostburn Weird; the ability to have your two-drop lock up the ground and be super aggressive when it needs to be is a great option to have. Watching BBD vs. CVM the other day, I was super impressed with how Frostburn Weird just locked the board down completely by itself. If you haven’t tried it in Standard, click on that hyperlink and give that video a good viewing.

Spoiler Alert: Prepare to be impressed.

Purphoros and Scourge of Valkas provide a great mana sink when we have all that extra mana lying around. I’ve wanted to play with Scourge since it was printed, so this gives me an excuse.

With these two monocolored decks, I think it’s ok to run four Nykthos since the rest of your lands will always produce the colors you need. Because these decks are built to maximize Nykthos, I definitely want to draw one at the expense of possibly drawing more than one. I don’t mind since I’ll be winning.

There are obviously other options, but I’m really excited about the green decks listed above. The G/R deck is what I’m currently running, but I could easily see moving towards mono-green since, you know, Worldspine Wurm and all. The explosiveness is there; we just need to use it to our advantage!

If you have a list running Nykthos, even if it’s in a different color combination (because I’m sure you guys have come up with some great ideas), please leave it in the comments below. I really think this land is primed to blow up, so let’s get that started.

You can even say "I was there the day we all broke Nykthos in the comment section of Michael’s article on StarCityGames.com." Let’s make that happen!

Michael Martin

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter

*This was done with a turn 1 Elvish Mystic, turn 2 tap the Mystic and a Forest for three Burning-Tree Emissarys. Play Nykthos, use the two mana from the last Emissary to activate Nykthos for seven green. Cast Garruk. Win?